This weekend, we got a great view into the broken way that the American political media covers climate change. Many people sense that U.S. politics reporters don’t always cover global warming in the most substantive or evidence-grounded way. This weekend provides a good example of how their coverage is also frequently negligent and just plain silly.
On Sunday, George Stephanopolous hosted H.R. McMaster, the president’s national-security adviser, on ABC’s This Week. Amid a discussion that touched on many aspects of the Trump administration’s foreign policy, Stephanopolous asked McMaster about the Paris Agreement.
At the time, The Wall Street Journal was reporting that Trump might not withdraw from the climate pact; the paper has since more or less backed off that report. But even though the news has gone stale, the exchange remains revealing. Here it is, in full:
Stephanopoulos: A pretty stunning headline in The Wall Street Journal right now. I want to put it up on the screen. It says, “The Trump Administration Seeks to Avoid Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, International Climate Officials Say.”
Here’s what the article says. “Trump administration officials said Saturday the United States would not pull out of the Paris agreement, offering to reengage in the international deal to fight climate change, according to multiple officials at a global-warming summit.”
So is it indeed possible the United States is not going to withdraw from the Paris climate-change agreement?
McMaster: So what the president has said is that we are withdrawing from the Paris Accord. He left the door open to reentering at some later time if there can be a better deal for the United States.
To cut in for a second: McMaster is right here. This has been Trump’s line since his original announcement, in June, that the United States would leave the treaty. But there’s a glaring problem with this framing that I’ll get to below.
I mean, the president’s objection to Paris was not that he’s against the environment or the climate. In fact, he made a pledge—if you go back to his speech, he said, we are renewing our commitment to have the cleanest air, the cleanest water, to address issues associated with the environment and global warming.
But that—that agreement was not good for the environment. It gave the biggest polluters, the biggest carbon emitters, a free ride. And so we also want to emphasize energy security. And then also clean fossil fuels. Clean fossil fuels continue to lift millions of out poverty around the world.
So what the president wants is a more effective approach to energy and the climate.
Stephanopoulos: Right. But it—but the president was very clear in that statement. He said the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. Of course, that withdrawal can’t take place until 2020.
So you’re saying if you can renegotiate better terms before 2020, the United States will not withdraw?
McMaster: I would just go back to what the president said. And, of course, he’s open to any discussions that will help us improve the environment, that will help us ensure energy security and will advance our prosperity and the prosperity of American workers and American businesses.
Stephanopoulos: So it is possible the United States would stay in if you can get a new agreement?
McMaster: If there’s an agreement that benefits the American people, certainly.
I wasn’t the only climate reporter who found themselves immensely frustrated by this back-and-forth. The most charitable reading here is that Stephanopoulos asked an uninformed question over and over again. The more likely reading is this: McMaster tells an untruth over and over again, and Stephanopoulos lets him get away with it.