Hypocrite! The Effect of Value Systems on Media Discourse
By Dodi Allocca
On January 10th 2018, Mayor Bill de Blasio made two major climate announcements. He declared that New York City will divest “its $189 billion pension system from fossil fuel reserve owners within five years” and that the City will bring a lawsuit against five oil companies to protect from and cope with the effects of climate change (Egan 2018, Neuman 2018). This proposed action has been seen as both a practical action and symbolic gesture to stand up against the fossil-fuel industry and highlight the destructive impacts of climate change. But since this announcement, conservative and progressive voices have critiqued de Blasio for the gaps between his political actions and his personal carbon footprint. Journalists from the New York Times, Fox News, and other media sources argue that despite this demonstrated political commitment, de Blasio’s personal behavior contradicts his interest in climate issues.
Although these different media sources agree that his actions might be hypocritical, each author and media source has their own set of values and different reasons to critique the Mayor. For this reason, this response will utilize a values analysis to discuss how different values inform critiques of de Blasio’s alleged hypocrisy in his announcement for the City to sue oil companies and divest from fossil fuels. Through the values analysis framework, this response will compare Jim Dwyer’s article, “Battling Climate Change from the Backseat of an S.U.V,” and a news segment “Activist: Its OK to break laws for climate change” by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. These sources demonstrate the role of the media as a stakeholder in environmental politics and shows how similar arguments can reflect different environmental values.
In his televised interview with an environmentalist and pipeline protestor, Ken Ward, Tucker Carlson (2018) criticizes Mayor de Blasio claiming he “puts other people’s money where his mouth is” and asks Ward “why can the Mayor of New York call himself a warrior against climate change when he uses a helicopter to get around the City?” Ward agrees with Carlson’s critique, but emphasizes that the Mayor is located within a specific system that requires him to burn fossil fuels. This interview is short, but Carlson’s questions are pointed. He does not discuss the actual impacts of climate change, divestment, or the lawsuit, but rather focuses on ad hominem arguments about the Mayor’s personal credibility as an environmentalist.
Carlson’s interview and response to de Blasio’s political actions and personal behavior reflects a value of democratic pragmatism (Smith 2009, 28). According to Smith, democratic pragmatism “emphasizes open communication and equality” and encourages public participation. In his reportage, Carlson does not express his opinions on climate change or divestment but focuses on the behavior and choices of a politician, which suggests that he is interested in open communication with the public about the behavior of “technocrats” (2009). But because he casts doubt on the science of climate change during other broadcasts, Carlson’s beliefs about divestment and climate change might be more cornucopian and reflect the values of economic rationalism or market liberalism, libertarianism, and free-market environmentalism (Smith 2009, Clapp and Dauvergne 2005). Overall, the focus on de Blasio rather than the issue of divestment or the fossil-fuel industry reflects Tucker Carlson’s specific agenda as a media authority and stakeholder in environmental politics.
Also critiquing the disconnect between de Blasio’s politics and personal life, Jim Dwyer claims that the Mayor’s use of S.U.V.s represents “the very embodiment of a possible line of defense by the oil companies” in which members of the fossil-fuel industry could direct the blame for climate change to individual consumer behavior rather than creators and suppliers of greenhouse gases (Dwyer 2018). He discusses how all humans are hypocrites, yet questions the effectiveness of de Blasio’s policy decisions. Dwyer, a New Yorker and member of a residential cooperative, has demonstrated an interest in climate change by making personal adjustments to his lifestyle. For example, he invented a solar panel system for his cooperative. Also notable, William Neuman’s (2018) article cites other climate-related pledges by the Mayor and questions whether or not the lawsuit and divestment efforts will be successful.
Rather than only criticizing de Blasio for his carbon footprint, Dwyer provides a less biased view of de Blasio’s decision and his personal carbon perhaps to answer the question: Why did Mayor de Blasio make this climate decision? Compared to Carlson, reportage like Neuman and Dwyer’s New York Times articles critically engage with questions about these climate-related declarations, because they represent a different set of values than that of Fox News, Tucker Carlson, and their specific audience. The New York Times does not cast doubt on the science of climate change, yet critically engages with policies and decisions made by stakeholders like Mayor de Blasio. By publically critiquing a technocrat like de Blasio, Dwyer and Neuman’s approaches echo a democratic pragmatist approach to environmental issues but compared to Carlson, he demonstrates more concern for science and environmental issues. This concern reflects Dryzek’s value of ecological modernization, which purports that environmental protection is “not a luxury but a necessity… for an adequate quality of life” (Smith 2009).
Overall, it is likely that Tucker Carlson opposes the decision of the Mayor and would like to continue to propagate his climate and science doubting rhetoric, while Dwyer might want his Mayor to participate in more climate-friendly behavior on a personal scale. These examples of coverage of the Mayor’s January announcement and their concern with his hypocrisy demonstrate how different conservative-leaning and progressive-leaning media sources can make similar critiques from different value systems and for different reasons.
Clapp, Jennifer and Peter Dauvergne. 2005. “Peril or Prosperity? Mapping Worldviews of Global Environmental Change” in Paths to a Green World : The Political Economy of the Global Environment. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. (2005).
Dwyer, Jim. 2018. “Battling Climate Change from the Back Seat of an S.U.V.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/11/nyregion/battling-climate-change-from-the-back-seat-of-an-suv.html (February 2, 2018).
Egan, Matt. 2018. “New York City to Exxon: Pay up for Climate Change Costs.” CNNMoney. http://money.cnn.com/2018/01/10/investing/new-york-climate-change-exxon-divest/index.html (February 2, 2018).
Neuman, William. 2018. “To Fight Climate Change, New York City Takes On Oil Companies.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/10/nyregion/new-york-city-fossil-fuel-divestment.html (February 2, 2018).
Smith, Zachary. 2009. “Public Opinion and the Environment” in the Environmental Policy Paradox, p. 23-31.
“‘You’ve Departed Science’: Tucker Battles Activist Over ‘Bomb Cyclone’ and Global Warming.” 2018. Fox News Insider. http://insider.foxnews.com/2018/01/06/tucker-battles-activist-over-bomb-cyclone-and-global-warming (February 2, 2018).
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