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During the most important year for climate news, TV coverage fell

Posted on 7 March 2016 by dana1981

Media Matters for America has published a report detailing US broadcast news coverage of climate change in 2015, and their findings are stunning.

2015 was a banner year for climate news. February, June, October, November, and December were each their respective hottest months on record, and 2015 shattered the record for hottest year. The pope delivered a climate encyclical.Investigative journalists at Inside Climate News discovered that Exxon knewabout the dangers of human-caused global warming while it funded a climate misinformation campaign, and the New York attorney general launched an investigation into the company’s behavior. President Obama’s Clean Power Plan went into effect, and he rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. And most importantly, 195 countries agreed to cut carbon pollution as much as possible to stem global warming.

Despite all these critically important stories, as in the presidential debates, climate change was largely absent from US broadcast news. Climate coverage fell in 2015. 


US broadcast network minutes of climate coverage in 2014 and 2015. Illustration: Media Matters for America

Most of the decline was due to ABC, which only spent 13 minutes in 2015 covering climate change – three times less than even Fox. While Fox’s coverage increased, most of the network’s climate segments featured interviews with guests who criticized efforts to address global warming.

The Sunday shows (ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday) and the network nightly news programs (ABC’s World News TonightCBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News)each aired a combined 73 minutes of climate coverage in 2015, down a total of 8 minutes (a 5% decline) from 2014. The Public Broadcasting System (PBS)NewsHour program aired more segments addressing climate change (58) than the other nightly news shows combined (48).


Number of segments covering the key climate stories of 2015 on each US news network. Illustration: Media Matters for America

In particular, the award-winning Inside Climate News Exxon investigation and the launch of the Clean Power Plan were largely overlooked by the news networks. 

When it came to interviewing or quoting scientists and doing segments about climate science research, PBS NewsHour again rose above its peers, while ABC’sWorld News Tonight flunked science class.


Climate scientist quotes and interviews, and climate science research segments, on each major US network nightly news program. Illustration: Media Matters for America

Climate scientists were entirely absent from the Sunday news shows, with one exception. On CBS’ Face the Nation in December, anchor John Dickerson interviewed Dr. Marshall Shepherd, meteorologist and director of University of Georgia’s Atmospheric Sciences Program, to discuss the importance of the UN summit’s goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius. This was a sharp decline from 2014, in which climate scientists were interviewed or quoted on seven Sunday news shows.

Failure to report on the most important issue of our day

Climate change affects some of the most critical components of our society: food security, national defense, extreme weather, the economy, public health, the environment, and so on. The broadcast networks touched on some of these, like extreme weather, but largely missed others.


US news network coverage of various climate impacts. Illustration: Media Matters for America

Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) reacted to the Media Matters report:

Click here to read the rest

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Comments 1 to 12:

  1. Media that is owned by people interested in maximizing the personal rewards they can accrue in their lifetime (which typicaly involves trying to get away with activity contrary to the advancement of humanity to a lasting better future for all), and media that relies on attracting an audience that would result in them getting advertising revenue from those type of people, cannot be expected to strive to raise awareness of the best understanding of what is going on and the changes required to advance global humanity to alasting better future (because that would be contrary to the interests of the people they are beholden to and strive to appeal to).

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  2. One Planet Only Forever  @1 It isn't so much that the media cannot be expected to strive to raise awareness but that the media is allowing climate change awareness to fall out of the public consciousness.  If I may digress a little and Dana, if you read this, a comment from an American would be appreciated.  I live in Australia and was asked what I thought of Donald Trump. I said I didn't don't know much about him  but then said it doesn't matter what I think but why, according to the reports, are so many Americans  voting for him?  Presumably they must like what he is saying which, as far as I can gather is very non-PC and lacks any sort of finesse.  

    Back on topic. Trump has said this about climate change:

    "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."    

    If a very high profile candidate for the POTUS with a lot of Americans voting for him in the Presidential rimaries says this,  it may be a significant number of Americans are no longer engaged with climate change and the media is reflecting this lack of interest.

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  3. Yeh, America has bigger problems than climate change.

    It also means clever operators get everyone else to do the heavy lifting and then buy your patents when you can't make the business plan work.

    In war you solve the problem that's going to kill you first,.. and that aint climate change.

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  4. Perhaps the problem is broader than the news media. I work at a university in the U.S. Recently one of my colleagues returned from a visit to a major U.S. university. Yesterday he was describing to me his discouragement over the fact that the school devoted to sustainability at the university he visited seemed uninterested in including climate or global warming within their purview. Of course other factors are important, such as renewable energy and recycling, but it seems odd that a school of sustainability would not consider climate within its scope. Has there been a failure to communicate well enough that sustainability is intimately linked to global warming?

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  5. ryland,

    Many multi-mass-media owners definitely control and direct their enterprises to pursue personal objectives while maximizing profit. Very few strive to better inform to advance humanity to a lasting better future (and many will try to use the term sustainable as Green-washing. In Alberta the businesses involved in the undeniably unsustainable production of coal, oil and gas for burning claim to be pursuing sustainable development).

    Those media leaders do not try to get everyone to watch or read their product. They try to appeal to identifiable audience types that can be sold to marketers who want focused access to that type of audience (and many marketers, particularly the deliberately misleading ones, want access to an audience that is willing to be easily impressed and is likely to have money to spend or would try to get a loan or credit card and run up debt for something they have been fooled into 'wanting - believing they need it').

    And there can be no doubt that getting away with cheaper desired things is appealing, so it is natural to expect it to be easy for people who gamble on benefiting from an unsustainable damaging activity like burning fossil fuels to succeed in their attempts to drum up support for keeping their unacceptable activities 'permitted, desired and cheap'.

    And media can also be significantly controlled by the lure of advertising revenue.

    The real problem is that advancing humanity to a 'lasting better future for all' is not as profitable as getting away with less acceptable pursuits, and it is easier to drum up popular support for damaging unsustainable activity because people can easily be tempted to 'want more reward for themselves and will not want to understand how unacceptable their desires are' (greedy people share that deliberate desire to not better understand things with intolerant people claiming to be religious, that is why greedy people commonly partner with intolerant people behind a potentially popular political Brand, they know they need each other's support because they fundamentally know their attitudes are unacceptable and have no real future).

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  6. OPOF @5, we need not assume direct editorial input to account for the astonishing anti-scientific bias in so much new media.  In essence, the AGW denier strategy (borrowed from the cigarette companies and creationists before them) is manufacture controversy.  As long as the science is considered controversial, it will be considered premature to frame policy on it.  Hence the deniers absolute hatred of any quantification of the consensus of climate scientists agreeing with global warming.

    On the other hand, the mantra of news organizations is that controversy sells copy.

    There is a natural synergy here such that for purely commercial reasons, new media will inflate the significance of, and give undue prominence to the 'mavericks', ie, the 1 or 2% of climate scientists and their non-scientist promoters over the consensus as determined by the IPCC.

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  7. Bozza:

    An army that solely focused on killing the enemy and neglected its supply line would not last very long in the field.  

    Miami Beach is spending hundreds of millions of dollars now to pump the ocean back.  These costs will only rise as sea level, flooding rains, strong hurricanes and other problems caused by AGW increase.

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  8. @michael sweet

    "Miami Beach is spending hundreds of millions of dollars now to pump the ocean back."

    Do you have a link or reference to go along with that statement? Thx.

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  9. Jenna:

    PBS and Miami Herald (cost estimate $500 million).  Many hits on Google.  These efforts will only help them for a little while, the ground is porous and the water cannot be held back.

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  10. Supplemental reading:

    Analysis of 50 major newspapers reveals relative drop in media attention at December UN conference compared with 2009 event

    Why did Paris climate summit get less press coverage than Copenhagen? by Alex Pashley, Climate Home, Mar 8, 2016

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  11. @ 7, fair enough.

    I didn't realise Miami was doing this and the problem is actually a clear and present danger. I mean I suspected it was but didn't actually know...

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  12. Tom Curtis @6:

    I agree that there is also the "Sensationalism Sells" motivation behind new media providers. And that is a significant part of how a new media provider may 'try to get attention'. But the report is regarding the behaviour of major established media in the US.

    Some "Sensationalism Sells" infuence exists even for the major media. However, there is little doubt that Murdoch has set up (and potentially even directs), Fox to report in accordance with his personal preference, and he definitely has a history of a misguided (misinforming) and denialist (deliberate attempts to discredit) attitude toward climate science. And there is no doubt that American Exceptionalism and the desire of many people in the US to gobble up appealing lies like President George Bush telling them 'they did not have to change how they lived' when he announced that the US would not be formally signing onto Kyoto (I remember how apalled I was when I watched him say it, but I cannot find a video or speech transcript).

    The types like Bush desired that US citizens believe they did not have to reduce their pursuit of reward from the burning of fossil fuels. And they still desire that belief to be maintained any way they can get away with, because 'pursuing maximum personal reward any way they can get away with for as long as they can get away with (cheaper and quicker without regard for advancing humanity to a better future for all)' is their chosen 'purpose in life'. It is the truly exceptional damaging and ultimately unsustainable attitude that is still fermetting and growing in pockets in the US and being exported (encouraged to develop) around the world in other potentially fertile regions (like Alberta, Canada) to grow and affect the future of humanity like a cancer, virus or bacterial disease thoughtlessly spreading and growing without any concern about its actual impacts. But unlike those unthinking trouble-makers, these people are able to be aware of the trouble they make and will deliberately try to get away with making it, including deliberately limiting the growth of awareness and understanding that is contrary to their interests, any way they can get away with including influencing what gets presented by the major media providers.

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