Responding to Negative Press

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CCL's Communications Team has created a five-step plan to help local CCL chapters understand when and how to push back on criticism of carbon pricing in the media. As the media puts more and more of a spotlight on carbon pricing, you and your chapter members may start to see negative media pieces or other criticism of carbon pricing pop up more frequently than in the past. 

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Five Steps to Respond to Negative Press Five Steps to Respond to Negative Press (.pdf)(created 10/6/21) 71 KB

As carbon pricing continues to advance during the budget reconciliation process, it will likely draw more public attention and scrutiny. A lot of the coverage we’re seeing is very positive, like these New York Times and Bloomberg articles. But you may also start to see an uptick in letters to the editor, op-eds, or social media posts where people are criticizing a carbon price. 

Here are five steps (Google Document) to take when you see negative press or social posts about a carbon price:

  1. Stay calm and set a realistic goal. It can be unsettling to see criticism of a policy we have worked so hard on for so many years. You may feel anxious or defensive, which is understandable. But don’t panic! Rest assured that heightened criticism is to be expected when any policy is being seriously considered on the national stage.

    So, set a realistic goal in your mind: we are not trying to convince every critic to become a supporter of carbon pricing. Instead, we are simply trying to interrupt the criticism so it doesn’t make an outsized impression. By addressing it, we can show other readers or social media users that while carbon pricing may have critics, it has plenty of supporters, too.
  2. Assess the opposition. 
    1. Is this criticism showing up in national media, in your local news outlets, or on social media? This can inform where you push back (Step 3).
    2. Is this criticism coming from the political left or right? What is the actual attack they’re making about carbon pricing? These factors will inform what you say in your response (Step 4).
    3. Is this criticism genuine and gaining traction, or does it seem to be in bad faith (i.e. “trolling”) or not getting much attention? This can inform how long you stay engaged with the critic if you decide to engage at all (Step 5).
    4. Is the criticism coming from a group focused on environmental justice? In this case, jump down to Step 4.4.
  3. Decide where to respond. You could address the criticism through traditional media, social media, or a mix of both.
    1. If the criticism appears in national media (for example, something appearing in the Washington Post), CCL’s communications staff will engage directly with the author or the journalist. To help with the public conversation, you can:
      1. Submit letters to the outlet that are supportive of carbon pricing
      2. See if the outlet or the author has shared the piece on any social media outlets. If so, leave social media comments that are supportive of carbon pricing 
      3. Leave online comments on the piece itself that are supportive of carbon pricing
    2. If the criticism appears in local media, address it via local media. You can:
      1. Push back in an LTE. LTEs are the easiest and fastest type of media to get published, so they are helpful when responding to criticism printed in the paper in any format (op-eds, articles, other letters, or even attack ads) 
      2. See if the outlet or the author has shared the piece on any social media outlets. If so, leave social media comments that are supportive of carbon pricing
    3. If the criticism appears on social media, address it on the same platform. You can:
      1. Leave replies or comments on the original critical post.
      2. Do not retweet/share the original critical post (we don’t want to amplify the criticism further).
  4. Prepare and post/publish your response. 
    1. In your response, address whatever attack was made against a carbon price. Attacks may come from the left or the right. Here is a guide to handling opposition, prepared by CCL’s Strategy Director Tony Sirna. It includes examples of common attacks and helpful responses. In particular, we want to be sure to refute attacks in these areas:
      1. Affordability. If critics raise concerns that this will raise prices, create inflation, etc., we should emphasize that carbon pricing is cost-neutral for most American families when the policy includes a "carbon cash back" payment / rebate / dividend.
      2. Debt/deficit. If critics say that the budget package as a whole will raise the deficit, we should clarify that a carbon fee will help support a healthy climate and a healthy economy without adding 1 penny to the deficit.
      3. Biden’s tax pledge. If critics say a carbon price breaks Biden’s promise not to tax families making less than $400k, we should clarify that carbon pricing is a corporate tax. Period. It is not a tax on individuals. 
      4. The economy. If critics say this will hurt jobs or lower GDP, we should push back by saying that a carbon fee will incentivize innovation by America’s businesses, creating millions of new jobs that will transform our economy and put Americans back to work.
      5. See more sample attacks and responses in our guide to handling opposition.
    2. Some attacks may be outright wrong about the policy. Your response should correct any factual errors and misleading statements you see in the original negative piece. Avoid repeating the exact text that is inaccurate or misleading. Instead, simply provide accurate information and cite the sources for the facts. Our guide to handling opposition includes links to many helpful studies, reports, and other resources you can use to refute misinformation.
    3. Maintain a respectful, polite tone. Sarcasm and ad hominem attacks do not win people over.
    4. In the case of criticism from an environmental justice community, an organization led by People of the Global Majority, or an Indigenous community, it’s important to take special care not to cause more harm. That means working to open up a dialogue rather than trying to correct the criticism. 
      1. On social media, we suggest saying something like, “Thank you for sharing your perspective on this. We would appreciate an opportunity to learn more about your perspective. Feel free to message us if you’re open to continuing this conversation.” 
      2. In traditional media, just continue to put out your own positive messages in LTEs and op-eds, rather than pushing back directly on the original criticism.
  5. Know when to stop. On social media, it’s tempting to go down the rabbit hole of back-and-forth exchanges, particularly with people who are not engaging in good faith. (These folks will often be dismissive or derogatory, and they will usually ignore any evidence or research you provide.) You might also come across criticism from accounts with very few followers, meaning that not many people are seeing their critique anyway. In these cases, once you have addressed the initial criticism or corrected any misinformation, you can simply stop engaging. If the account is particularly small, you may choose not to engage in the first place. 

That’s it! After you’ve responded to the negative media, turn your focus back to writing, publishing, and posting positive information about carbon pricing and celebrating its advancement through Congress.

If you have questions or need additional support, post in the CCL Community Media Relations forum, and a member of CCL’s communications staff will help you.

Media Relations
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