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News network climate reporting soared in 2017 thanks to Trump

Posted on 15 February 2018 by dana1981

In 2016, US TV network news coverage of climate change plummeted. News coverage was focused on the presidential election, but the corporate broadcast networks didn’t air a single segment informing viewers how a win by Trump or Hillary Clinton could affect climate change or climate policy. That followed a slight drop in news coverage of climate change in 2015, despite that year being full of critical events like the Paris climate accordsClean Power Plan, and record-breaking heat.

The good news is that the annual analysis done by Media Matters for America found that in 2017, network news coverage of climate change soared.


Minutes of US corporate news network climate coverage by year, 2014–2017. Data from Media Matters for America. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

The bad news is that most of it was focused on Trump’s historically stupid withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.

trump coverage

Broadcast news coverage of climate change (pink), and related to the Trump administration (blue). Illustration: Media Matters for America

All Trump, all the time

Media Matters found that in 2017, 79% percent of the time that corporate broadcast networks spent covering climate change featured actions or statements by the Trump administration. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement was featured in 52% of climate news segments.


Topics covered in 2017 climate-related news stories. Illustration: Media Matters for America

The administration also brought climate denial into the news cycle. Of the network news climate segments last year, 19% mentioned that Trump has called climate change a “hoax,” and 37% of those didn’t rebut the claim.

Many statements by the administration have focused on manufacturing doubt about human-caused global warming. For example, in a June 4 segment on CBS’ Face the Nation, when asked about Trump’s “hoax” comments, his U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley dodged the question by saying:

The president believes the climate is changing, and he does know that pollutants are a part of that equation.

Other members of the administration like Scott Pruitt have similarly cast doubt on the fact that humans are the dominant cause of current climate change.

This happened in a year filled with expensive climate-fueled disasters including hurricanes, droughts, heatwaves, and floods. The corporate broadcast networks – ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX – aired just four total segments that discussed these events in the context of climate change.

climate weather

Number of news segments discussing the extreme weather events of 2017 in the context of climate change. Illustration: Media Matters for America

PBS still has the best climate reporting

By contrast, PBS aired 8 news segments discussing the link between climate change and the extreme weather events of 2017. Like the previous year, PBS had far more overall climate change coverage than the corporate news networks. PBS NewsHour interviewed or quoted more scientists in its climate coverage than all the other networks combined – 29 scientists, compared to a total of 27 scientists for the others (14 on CBS, 10 on NBC, 3 on ABC, and none on FOX). PBS NewsHour also featured the highest number of climate change segments (69), followed by CBS Evening News (44), NBC Nightly News (27), and ABC’s World News Tonight (23).

It’s thus perhaps unsurprising that Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate federal funding for PBS.

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Comments 1 to 3:

  1. My thanks to PBS, CBS, and NBC for making the effort to report the science.

    Fox are just pathetic, completely asleep at the wheel. Anything that upsets their world view is ignored. This will come back to bite them and their supporters.

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  2. Regarding Trump pulling out of Paris, and similar matters. Imo much of what Donald Trump does is similar to internet trolling. Trolls set out to be provocative, seek attention and  to cause maximum argument and disruption, and have certain personal characteritics all as below.

    I think pulling out of Paris is partly just to be deliberately disruptive for the sake of it.

    You could also add self centred plundering of the environment with no care for the consequences.

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  3. The fact that our digital age enables people to “stay up to date” with current events strictly through outlets that do not pose a threat to their viewpoint or identity is a curious phenomenon. Theoretically, the interconnectivity that technology offers allows for diversity in coverage and opinion relating to a particular issue (e.g., yet many people have constructed their own worldview and voluntarily choose to stay within its confines. For instance, according to the article’s “US Corporate News Network Climate Coverage” figure, in 2016, FOX News only discussed climate-related matters for approximately five minutes in total. This is in part due to the presidential election, and for those who view FOX News exclusively, the topic of climate change is simply irrelevant, even nonexistent within the lens by which they interpret the world. Further, I found the comparison of major news networks’ — ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and FOX — coverage of extreme weather events in 2017 in the context of climate change to be very interesting and helpful for better understanding the scope of these outlets. Luckily, climate reporting in 2017 generally increased relative to 2016; however, the corporate broadcast networks including ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX only aired four total segments relating to natural disasters and climate change. Contrastingly, PBS continues to be an exemplar in publicly advancing climate science data, yet may face substantial reductions in federal funding in light of Trump’s proposed budget. It is critical that as conscious citizens we continue to be skeptical and inquisitive of what we hear and see on the news, pushing back against vested monetary interests that value arbitrary wealth over planetary longevity.

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