Tucker Carlson may be gone from Fox News, but his spirit of climate denialism lives on in his replacement, Jesse Watters.
On Monday, Fox debuted Watters’ show—Jesse Watters Primetime—at 8 p.m. That’s the old timeslot of Carlson, whom Fox fired back in April after a defamation lawsuit relating to Carlson’s coverage of the 2020 presidential election resulted in a staggering $787 million settlement for the conservative media giant. Watters will be just the third person in the network’s 26-year history to host the much-coveted 8 p.m. weeknight slot.
Once Fox’s most popular news host, Carlson has been one of the world’s most prolific peddlers of climate misinformation. But Watters has an equally problematic history of embracing conspiracy theories about the climate crisis and downplaying its threat to the public, according to a new report by Media Matters America, a progressive think tank and media watchdog.
“Watters’ unrelenting posture of condescension falsely brands climate change mitigation as a corruption-laced grift to leech money from unsuspecting Americans,” the report said. “While Watters uses similar climate denial talking points as numerous other Fox News hosts, he has been able to wield them in a particularly damaging way that resonates with Fox’s audience and builds out the channel’s dangerous brand of misinformation.”
That’s because Watters “excels at stoking right-wing culture war outrage,” the report’s authors wrote, while going “out of his way to push climate change denial during extreme weather events, at the moments when the reality of climate change is most evident.”
When several major American cities, including New York City and Washington, DC, were blanketed by thick wildfire smoke from Canada last month, Watters called the situation “normal” and accused climate scientists of “preying on ignorance” when they linked the increase of Canadian wildfires to climate change.
It’s one of dozens of misleading or false claims about global warming and climate science that Watters has made over the years while working for different Fox programs, the report found. Just this year, it said, Watters called global warming “corporate propaganda” and “a ruse,” said efforts to reduce emissions were “just a ploy” to get people “to buy more stuff the Democrats are selling,” and claimed that “certain parts of the world will get a tiny bit warmer, but the United States will do just fine.”
Watters has also fueled several conspiracy theories, the report noted, including by suggesting on air that environmental groups advocating for increased investment in renewable energy “are taking dirty Russian money…to scare Americans out of fracking and energy exploration.” He also helped to fuel unsubstantiated rumors being pushed by Republican lawmakers who say that offshore wind farms along the U.S. East Coast—none of which have actually been built yet—are responsible for an uptick of recent whale deaths.
“Watters was seemingly the first major TV news network host to parrot misinformation peddled by a partially fossil fuel-funded campaign against offshore wind projects on the East Coast,” the Media Matters report said. “In the following weeks, Fox News followed Watters’ lead and aired numerous segments insinuating that the recent deaths of whales across New York and New Jersey beaches were caused by the development of offshore wind turbines.”
Federal scientists have repeatedly said there’s no evidence that offshore wind development has played any role in the whale deaths, which appear to be more likely tied to climate change and collisions with boats. In fact, several whale species have been increasingly dying off since 2016—long before any of the offshore wind farms along the East Coast were in development. Evidence also suggests campaigns to halt offshore wind development in order to “save the whales” have in part been funded by fossil fuel companies and industry advocacy groups.
In many ways, Fox News has played a central role in fueling climate misinformation. Reports from a coalition of environmental and disinformation advocacy groups have identified Fox as a major spreader of inaccurate climate information. Those experts now fear that such misconceptions, often spread on social media, pose a fundamental hurdle to the global effort to curb climate change, largely because they fuel political divisions and exacerbate Western culture wars.
But stoking outrage, especially through the lens of America’s culture wars, has long been the format of Fox’s 8 p.m. primetime show, no matter who hosts it. Bill O’Reilly, who hosted Fox’s primetime spot before Carlson, and was fired in 2017 over sexual harassment allegations, once said, “Nobody can control the climate except God.” Watters, in that sense, is merely carrying the torch.
During his Monday debut, Watters leaned into his familiar culture-war rhetoric as he segued to a story about the record-breaking July heat waves. “It’s been a hot July,” Watters said with a smirk to the 2.5 million viewers who tuned in to watch. “Some call it ‘global warming,’ some call it ‘summer.’”
Watters’ own mother, however, called into the show to offer a warning. “Congratulations, honeybun. We are so proud of you and your accomplishments … Now let’s aim to have you keep your job. And to that end, I do have some suggestions,” she told her son on air. “Do not tumble into any conspiracy rabbit holes. We do not want to lose you and we want no lawsuits, OK?”