France’s increasingly violent “yellow vest” protests began as grassroots, working-class opposition to a fuel tax hike that was promoted by the government as climate change action. But network stories about the protests ignored the environmental motivations most of the time.
At the start of the protests Nov. 17, The Washington Post put it bluntly: “France’s climate change commitments trigger rising diesel prices and street protests.” That economic pain prompted hundreds of thousands to take to the streets that day, mostly blocking traffic. CNBC.com reported in December those tax hikes were “part of the government’s proposed carbon tax designed to improve its environmental credentials” although the protests had also “morphed into wider discontent” about the cost of living.
The networks, which often obsess over the threat of climate change, hid that connection from viewers in most stories about the protests. Sixty-six percent (10 of 15) of those morning and evening news reports failed to connect the fuel tax to the French government’s environmental policies between Nov. 17, and the morning of Dec. 4.
Opponents of carbon taxes and other similar means of forcing carbon reduction have pointed out for years that these would harm the economy and hurt the poor the most. That hasn’t stopped the U.N. for calling for carbon taxes or liberal media from promoting it as a “cheap, proven fix” or something that “we should do.”
The fact that France’s riots illustrated economic pain and outrage against so-called climate change solutions is exactly why the networks needed to tell the whole story in all of their reporting — not just one-third of it.
CBS This Morning, NBC’s Today and ABC’s Good Morning America all covered the latest developments on Dec. 4, after the French Prime Minister Edouarde Philippe made a “major U-turn” and suspended the “controversial fuel tax” hike for several months. That was “too little, too late” for protesters, according to The New York Times.
ABC, CBS and NBC stories emphasized the latest violence, which included riots in Paris and hundreds of arrests. Today reported it was the France’s “worst urban riot in years.” None of those three reports connected the riots or the fuel tax to the French government’s efforts to stop climate change.
One night earlier, only the CBS Evening News made a connection while NBC Nightly News and World News Tonight skipped the climate change angle.
However, other media outlets put this issue into perspective. The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote on Dec. 4, that a “fault line runs between anti-carbon policies and economic growth, and France is a test for the political future of emissions restrictions.”
“France already is a relatively low-carbon economy, with per-capita emissions half Germany’s as of 2014,” the editorial continued. “French governments have nonetheless pursued an ‘ecological transition’ to further squeeze carbon emissions from every corner of the French economy. The results are visible in the Paris streets.”
The Journal called the fuel hikes “punitive” and meant to “discourage driving” and “preposterous in an economy that still has an 8.9% jobless rate ... and will struggle to hit 2% annual GDP growth. Yellow Vests from less prosperous rural areas, who depend on cars for daily life, know it.”
That editorial also took a step the networks failed to — looking beyond Paris to a “global carbon tax revolt,” citing a Washington state vote against a carbon tax and Ontario province’s suit to stop a federal carbon tax in Canada.
Methodology: MRC Business searched Nexis for reports from ABC, CBS and NBC about France or Paris in order to find network news coverage of the French protests between Nov. 17 and the morning of Dec. 4, on the morning and evening news shows.