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

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:

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Posted by dana1981 on Monday, 7 March, 2016

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