A Media Matters analysis found that network nightly news coverage of climate change was tepid in 2013, despite growing scientific evidence that global warming is getting worse. By contrast, PBS aired nearly three times as much climate coverage as ABC World News, the worst offender.
PBS NewsHour aired more news coverage about climate change and interviewed more scientists on the issue than any other evening network news program in 2013. The scale and scope of coverage demonstrated the program's commitment to reporting on global warming, a pattern Media Matters first identified in 2012. The program broadcast 35 stories that at least mentioned climate change, far more than what ABC World News, NBC Nightly News or CBS Evening News chose to give its audiences. By comparison, the three other network nightly news programs aired a combined total of 49 stories that at least mentioned global warming.
A Media Matters analysis reveals that news coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX picked up in 2013 over the previous year, but remained lower than a 2009 high. Furthermore, while one Sunday show interviewed scientists about climate change, distinguishing itself as the first such program to do so in five years, these shows continued to rely largely on media figures and Republicans to dictate the conversation around global warming.
Conservative pundit and Fox News contributor Erick Erickson questioned the reality of climate change by comparing it to the second coming of Jesus Christ, saying the difference is that "Jesus will return." But mounting evidence shows that climate change has already taken hold and will worsen if left unchecked, a fact accepted by many in the Christian community.
On January 2, Erickson sparked controversy on Twitter after he tweeted that "[t]he difference between people who believe in the 2nd coming of Jesus and those who believe in global warming is that Jesus will return":
Erickson's claim contradicts the position put forward by ranking members of the Christian community. In his inaugural mass on March 19, Pope Francis called upon "all men and women of goodwill" to be "protectors [...] of the environment":
Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of good will: let us be 'protectors' of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.
Catholic leaders have explicitly linked this need to be stewards of the environment with the fight against global climate change. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced in 2001 that it accepts the scientific consensus and "the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change":
As Catholic bishops, we make no independent judgment on the plausibility of "global warming." Rather, we accept the consensus findings of so many scientists and the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a basis for continued research and prudent action (see the sidebar: The Science of Global Climate Change). Scientists engaged in this research consistently acknowledge the difficulties of accurate measurement and forecasting. Models of measurement evolve and vary in reliability. Researchers and advocates on all sides of the issue often have stakes in policy outcomes, as do advocates of various courses of public policy. News reports can oversimplify findings or focus on controversy rather than areas of consensus. Accordingly, interpretation of scientific data and conclusions in public discussion can be difficult and contentious matters.
Catholic bishops are not alone in calling on Christians to accept the science that speaks to the urgent need for action against manmade climate change. A number of Christian institutions have called upon members to take action against climate change. In 2006, the Evangelical Climate Initiative, a group that includes more than 300 evangelical Christian leaders from across the United States, urged members of the evangelical Christian faith to fight climate change because it "hit[s] the poor the hardest":
Poor nations and poor individuals have fewer resources available to cope with major challenges and threats. The consequences of global warming will therefore hit the poor the hardest, in part because those areas likely to be significantly affected first are in the poorest regions of the world. Millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors.
Christians must care about climate change because we are called to love our neighbors, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and to protect and care for the least of these as though each was Jesus Christ himself (Mt. 22:34-40; Mt. 7:12; Mt. 25:31-46).
Christians, noting the fact that most of the climate change problem is human induced, are reminded that when God made humanity he commissioned us to exercise stewardship over the earth and its creatures. Climate change is the latest evidence of our failure to exercise proper stewardship, and constitutes a critical opportunity for us to do better (Gen. 1:26-28).
Beyond leaders within the Christian community, a rough majority of Christians in the United States said that increasingly extreme natural disasters are evidence that the planet already feels the effects of climate change, recent polling data found.
Six out of 10 Catholics and half of all white evangelical Protestants agree that the growing trend in extreme weather events and natural disasters support the scientific consensus about climate change, according to a December 2012 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute:
Nearly 7-in-10 (69%) religiously unaffiliated Americans, 6-in-10 (60%) Catholics, and half (50%) of white evangelical Protestants agree that the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of global climate change.
Erickson's rhetoric emulates Rush Limbaugh's claim earlier this year when he informed his listeners, "If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade global warming.You must be either agnostic or atheistic to believe that man controls something he can't create." In response, the Evangelical Environmental Network published an open letter asking him to "refrain from your harmful rhetoric on climate change":
As a lifelong Republican and an evangelical pro-life clergyman who pastored a local congregation for almost 20 years, spent fourteen years working in the coal industry, and now leads one of the oldest creation care ministries, I ask you to refrain from your harmful rhetoric on climate change. It is simply wrong.
Recently, you stated that "If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in man-made global warming." Nothing could be further from truth.
If 2012 was the year of Solyndra, then 2013 was the year of Tesla, whose initial success has encapsulated the potential of clean energy. The electric automaker received a loan from the same overarching program as Solyndra, the bankrupt solar company that became the target of political attacks, but it turned a profit and became the poster child for clean energy subsidies. This confounded conservative media, who alternated between praising Tesla while denying or ignoring its federal loan, and putting it down just days later.
In addition to the more traditional targets -- electric cars like Tesla's, solar (allegedly "tanking the economy") and wind energy (supposedly causing "devastating" health effects) -- this year conservative media reached so far right as to go after energy efficiency and bike-share programs. We collected some of the worst attacks from conservative media against clean energy technology during 2013.
The New York Times has produced less environmental news coverage overall since dismantling its reporting team and blog devoted to this issue area earlier this year, the newspaper's public editor said.
In her November 23 column, New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan reported that environmental coverage and investigative projects decreased significantly since the newspaper disbanded its issue-specific team in January and discontinued the Green blog in March. This decision drew wide criticisms and concerns, which were substantiated by a corresponding drop in coverage on environmental issues, including the omission of two major climate stories in August. The decrease came despite assurances from editors that "they were not abandoning the subject -- just taking it out of its silo and integrating it into many areas of coverage," Sullivan reported:
Times editors emphasized that they were not abandoning the subject -- just taking it out of its silo and integrating it into many areas of coverage. The changes were made for both cost-cutting and strategic reasons, they said, and the blog did not have high readership. Readers and outside critics weren't buying it. They scoffed at the idea that less would somehow translate into not only more, but also better.
While current events may develop and influence a media outlet's news agenda, the loss of environmental coverage from the New York Times after the changes went into effect was noticeable and immediate. Specifically, climate change coverage dropped by one-third to 242 articles from April to September this year, compared to 362 articles during the same time period in 2012, Sullivan reported, citing work from the University of Colorado's Maxwell T. Boykoff. Similarly, the New York Times only ran three front-page articles that delved into climate change between April and September, versus nine stories produced during the same time period in 2012. Sullivan highlighted that "[w]ith fewer reporters and no coordinating editor, what was missing was the number and variety of fresh angles from the previous year."
Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, sweeping the island nation with near-record winds and a towering storm surge. There are many scientific uncertainties around the factors contributing to storms such as Super Typhoon Haiyan, but scientists know that rising sea levels driven by manmade climate change worsen the damage caused by these storms. Yet an analysis of Typhoon Haiyan coverage in television and print media finds that less than five percent of stories mentioned climate change.
Fox host Chris Wallace tossed softball questions to health insurance industry lobbyists about people losing their coverage and ending up with more expensive plans, failing to mention that many insurance companies were recently exposed for only informing customers about pricier plans they offered, rather than more affordable options available on healthcare exchanges under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
On the November 17 edition of Fox News Sunday, Wallace interviewed Karen Ignagni, the president and chief executive officer of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), which represents the health insurance industry nationwide. During the segment, Wallace highlighted a statement from AHIP that suggested that President Obama's recently proposed fix could "destabilize the market and result in higher premiums for consumers." Wallace later asked Ignagni if most canceled policies will be reinstated and if, when Obama told people that "if you like your plan, you can keep your plan," she knew "that was not possible under the terms of Obamacare":
Wallace's interview neglected to highlight that a number of health insurance companies were not forthcoming with consumers about less costly plans made available to them as a result of ACA implementation. An investigation by Talking Points Memo reported that "these insurers put their customers at risk of enrolling in plans that were not as good or as affordable as what they could buy on the marketplaces":
Across the country, insurance companies have sent misleading letters to consumers, trying to lock them into the companies' own, sometimes more expensive health insurance plans rather than let them shop for insurance and tax credits on the Obamacare marketplaces -- which could lead to people [...] spending thousands more for insurance than the law intended. In some cases, mentions of the marketplace in those letters are relegated to a mere footnote, which can be easily overlooked.
The extreme lengths to which some insurance companies are going to hold on to existing customers at higher price, as the Affordable Care Act fundamentally re-orders the individual insurance market, has caught the attention of state insurance regulators.
The insurance companies argue that it's simply capitalism at work. But regulators don't see it that way. By warning customers that their health insurance plans are being canceled as a result of Obamacare and urging them to secure new insurance plans before the Obamacare launched on Oct. 1, these insurers put their customers at risk of enrolling in plans that were not as good or as affordable as what they could buy on the marketplaces.
But Fox News Sunday's softball interview was par for the course on the network, which has consistently churned out misleading information about ACA "horror stories" that don't stand up against scrutiny.
On Fox News' Hannity, host Sean Hannity invited a panel of people who claimed to have fallen victim to ACA implementation during the October 11 edition of his show. Business owners Paul and Michelle Cox insisted that ACA regulations forced them to "cut back on hiring full-time employees" and "keep [employees] below 30 hours":
MICHELLE COX: We received a letter from our insurance company stating that we would no longer be able to have our existing health plan, despite the president's promise that we would be able to keep that existing plan.
As a business, we are jumping through more hoops, more regulation, more paperwork. And we've also cut back on hiring full-time employees because of the health care costs involved, even though we'd love to do that.
HANNITY: You'd like to hire full-time employees --
MICHELLE COX: We would love to.
HANNITY: -- but you -- so you're going to keep them below 30 hours.
MICHELLE COX: Exactly.
PAUL COX: We've had to keep them below 30 hours or we wouldn't be able to -- you know, not that we wouldn't want to pay it, we just wouldn't be able to --
MICHELLE COX: Yes.
PAUL COX: -- stay in business and pay it. [Fox News, Hannity, 10/11/13]
It was later revealed that the Coxes overhyped their claims and would have saved money through the health exchanges. In fact, their business only employed four people, and is therefore unaffected by the law's 49-employee threshold, according to an October 18 post at Salon from Eric Stern, senior counsel to former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer:
First I spoke with Paul Cox of Leicester, N.C. He and his wife Michelle had lamented to Hannity that because of Obamacare, they can't grow their construction business and they have kept their employees below a certain number of hours, so that they are part-timers.
Obamacare has no effect on businesses with 49 employees or less. But in our brief conversation on the phone, Paul revealed that he has only four employees. Why the cutback on his workforce? "Well," he said, "I haven't been forced to do so, it's just that I've chosen to do so. I have to deal with increased costs." What costs? And how, I asked him, is any of it due to Obamacare? There was a long pause, after which he said he'd call me back. He never did.
There is only one Obamacare requirement that applies to a company of this size: workers must be notified of the existence of the "healthcare.gov" website, the insurance exchange. That's all.
CNN and Fox News devoted massive coverage to the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, but both networks omitted any mention of climate change in their reporting despite its likely role in the extreme nature and devastation of the event.
Though it is difficult to determine just how much of Sandy's unprecedented destruction can be directly linked to climate change, climate scientists agree that higher tides produced by global warming exacerbated flooding from the storm, and hurricane severity is expected to increase as sea levels continue to rise. Unlike Fox and CNN, several MSNBC segments about the Sandy anniversary mentioned climate change. But overall, just under 8 percent of segments on the top cable news networks mentioned climate change in their anniversary coverage.
Fox News and CNN devoted approximately 52 minutes and 54 minutes, respectively, to Sandy coverage on its anniversary. Coverage centered around the devastating impacts of the storm, the subsequent complications with disaster relief funding, and efforts to rebuild the damaged coastal areas and prepare for the next natural disaster. Missing from their coverage, however, was climate change's role in worsening the impact of storms like Sandy and the fact that climate change could drastically affect coastal communities in the future.
During a segment on Fox News' Happening Now, meteorologist Janice Dean warned that "another Hurricane Sandy" could happen again "in the next decade or so" as we are heading into "an active period in terms of tropical development." She dissected the "anatomy" of Sandy, citing the angle of the storm, the storm's unnatural width, and the high tide as key factors for the storm system's extreme damage, but left out that climate change has triggered rising sea levels.
CNN's Indra Petersons also discussed the many factors that contributed to Sandy's impacts -- but excluded climate change-caused sea level rise.
The media has heavily focused on problems faced by the Affordable Care Act website's implementation problems at the expense of stories showing that the exchanges have allowed many people to successfully access affordable health care coverage.
Fox News host Gretchen Carlson tried to resurrect the debunked claim that President Obama played a role in the IRS' targeting of political groups.
On the October 21 edition of Fox News' The Real Story With Gretchen Carlson, Carlson attempted to "put the president under the microscope" about what he knew and suggested that investigations into the matter "never really got to the bottom of it." Carlson invited regular Fox News guest Jay Sekulow, chief counsel with the conservative American Center for Law and Justice, which filed a lawsuit against the government over allegations about what the IRS did. Sekulow acknowledged that he has not added Obama's name to the lawsuit, but that did not stop him or Carlson from fueling speculation that Obama had prior knowledge of what happened:
Despite Carlson's speculation, there is no evidence whatsoever to tie President Obama to the IRS' actions. A July 16 memo issued by the office of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) compiled information from 15 IRS employees based on interviews with the GOP-led House Oversight Committee. According to the memo, the committee found that "[n]one of these witnesses reported any political motivation or White House involvement."