A Media Matters study found that most network nightly news programs this year are on track to offer no more coverage of global warming than they did in 2013. However, PBS NewsHour remains a notable exception, covering climate change more than any other network and interviewing the largest number of scientists on the topic.
During the first six months of 2014, PBS NewsHour produced more news that featured climate change than any other major network evening broadcast, continuing a trend that Media Matters identified in both 2012 and 2013. The program aired 28 stories that at least mentioned global warming, nearly as much as all coverage combined from ABC World News, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News during the same period, and four times the amount of coverage from ABC World News alone. Among all major nightly news programs, ABC by far offered its viewers the least coverage that gave any substantial mention of global warming, with only seven stories. While it is worth noting that NewsHour is an hour-long broadcast compared to the half hour broadcasts on the other networks, it nonetheless offered more than double the number of stories offered by its closest network news competitor, CBS Evening News.
ABC World News' lack of climate coverage so far this year correlates with its 2013 coverage when the program aired the fewest stories among all network nightly news shows, a flip in coverage from 2012 when the network was second only to PBS in such coverage.
Of the 28 stories that PBS NewsHour aired, 16 were segments focused on global warming. PBS NewsHour's coverage offered analysis of significant policy developments and major international reports, such as the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed carbon pollution standards and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report that found climate change already has taken a toll on the planet and warned that food security and economic growth would be undermined if carbon pollution is not drastically cut. The program also connected unusual events, such as diseased starfish in the Pacific Northwest and coastal flooding on Alaska's North Slope, to the broader climate context.
More scientists were interviewed about climate change on PBS NewsHour than on any other network nightly news broadcast. During the first six months of the year, the NewsHour featured 14 scientists in its reports on global warming, nearly as many as the combined total of 16 scientists who appeared on all nightly news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC. For an issue firmly based in scientific research and evidence, PBS NewsHour relied heavily on scientists, only turning to six media figures and six politicians during the first half of 2014.
This report analyzes news coverage of "climate change" and "global warming" that aired on PBS NewsHour, ABC World News, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News between January 1, 2014, and June 30, 2014. Our analysis includes any segment devoted to climate change, as well as any substantial mention (more than one paragraph of a news transcript and/or or a definitive statement about climate change). Transcripts from Nexis and Media Matters' internal video archives, as well as the Internet Archive online database, were used to collect these stories.
After calling for major network news outlets to air more reporting about climate change, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) praised the finding that Sunday morning news shows dramatically increased their coverage of the climate crisis.
"This is a step in the right direction. Global warming is the most serious environmental crisis facing our planet," Sen. Bernie Sanders said in a written statement.
A Media Matters analysis found that ABC's This Week, CBS' Face The Nation, NBC's Meet The Press and FOX Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday included 1 hour, 5 minutes of reporting related to climate change during the first six months of 2014 -- as much as these outlets aired in the previous four years combined.
In response to a year of lackluster coverage assessed in a 2013 Media Matters study, a group of nine U.S. senators demanded that Sunday morning news shows broadcast more reporting about global warming in a January 16 letter to executives at the major broadcast networks. In the letter, they decried how "shockingly little discussion" the Sunday shows devoted to climate change, which poses a "huge threat" to the United States and planet as was confirmed this year in reports issued by the federal government, international climate experts and the business community. From the letter:
We are writing to express our deep concern about the lack of attention to climate change on such Sunday news shows as ABC's "This Week," NBC's "Meet the Press," CBS's "Face the Nation," and "Fox News Sunday."
According to the scientific community, climate change is the most serious environmental crisis facing our planet. The scientists who have studied this issue are virtually unanimous in the view that climate change is occurring, that it poses a huge threat to our nation and the global community, and that it is caused by human activity. In fact, 97% of researchers actively publishing in this field agree with these conclusions.
The scientific community and governmental leaders around the world rightly worry about the horrific dangers we face if we do not address climate change. Sea level rise will take its toll on coastal states. Communities will be increasingly at risk of billions of dollars in damages from more extreme weather. And farmers may see crops and livestock destroyed as worsening drought sets in. Yet, despite these warnings, there has been shockingly little discussion on the Sunday morning news shows about this critically important issue. This is disturbing not only because the millions of viewers who watch these shows deserve to hear that discussion, but because the Sunday shows often have an impact on news coverage in other media throughout the week.
One month later, on February 16, every major Sunday show offered at least one substantial mention of climate change in a shift that Sanders' office noted at the time. However, some segments used false balance to frame their climate coverage. These broadcasts misled audiences with flawed debates that allowed guests to question the very premise of global warming, contrary to the overwhelming scientific consensus that man-made climate change is real. In fact, nearly 30 minutes of all Sunday segments included false balance. CBS' Face the Nation was the only Sunday show that avoided introducing false balance into its program during the first half of 2014. In light of that change in coverage, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) told the National Journal that: "It's time to move on from treating climate change as a debate and talk about what we can do about it for people's lives and businesses."
In April, while standing on the Senate Floor, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) stressed the need for more climate coverage and the danger of airing false balance on the science behind global warming, saying, "The denier castle is crumbling."
A Media Matters analysis finds that the Sunday shows covered climate change more in the first half of 2014 than in the last four years combined, following a push from nine U.S. Senators for increased coverage. Although these shows gave the issue more coverage, at times they used false balance, enshrouding the scientific consensus surrounding climate change.
A Daily Caller article cites an increase in the populations of two penguin species to dismiss "global warming scares" that climate change poses a dangerous threat to these animals. But the population "increases" are partially due to better census data, while penguins globally are declining and remain extremely vulnerable to global warming.
Two species of penguins appear to be increasing in population, according to recent census data: the Adélie Penguin and the Emperor Penguin (for reference, those are the two species featured in the animated movie Happy Feet). The Daily Caller's Michael Bastasch trumpeted these findings as a victory against "global warming alarmists, like Al Gore," who have "claimed that penguin populations are in deep trouble due to global warming." Bastasch asserted: "The global population of penguins has boomed."
Not quite. One reason for the observed population increase in Adélie and Emperor Penguins is that scientists are simply better at finding them. The scientists found that a much larger portion of the Adélie population lives in East Antarctica than previously thought, discovering 17 previously unknown colonies. This is enough to offset the decline of Adélie Penguins on the West Antarctic Peninsula, where an ice sheet is melting in warm ocean waters at a rate that in May scientists described as "unstoppable." Heather Lynch, assistant professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University and the lead author of the study, explained in an email to Media Matters that "while the increase in abundance is real," more accurate census data played a role.
And while one species of penguin might be increasing, several others are decreasing. Lynch noted that "many" penguin species have been declining, "particularly temperate species," as well as chinstrap penguins which are "declining across most if not all of their range."
Stephanie Jenouvrier, a seabird ecologist with the Woods Hole Institute, stated to Media Matters that several penguin species are listed as endangered; at least eight as of 2011. Jenouvrier added that their work shows that Emperor Penguins -- one of the species Bastasch cited as growing in size -- should also be listed as endangered, but that "large uncertainties have so far hampered the listing," including the fact that it is "difficult to obtain [a] reliable estimate of [the] global population." Research has shown how Emperor penguins are extremely vulnerable to global warming.
Ron Naveen, a scientist who has been leading the Antarctic Site Inventory project for 20 years, stated in an email to Media Matters that Bastasch's allegation that penguin populations are "booming" is "way off base":
To suggest that Adélies are booming isn't the story, nor is it accurate. To suggest that ALL penguins globally are booming is also, way off base. The only way to know, really know, that would be to compare sat[ellite] phot[o] analyses from decades previous -- and, of course, that's not possible. The technology didn't exist back then.
The real story is that we humans now have much better tools to detect and assess change.
Scientists have been warning for years that global warming poses a critical threat for many species of penguin. Warming ocean waters and reduced sea ice cover are responsible for a major decline in the krill population, the penguins' primary food source, and sea ice loss threatens their nesting grounds. And many species are already suffering from a changed climate, with nearly 50 percent of chick deaths in the largest colony of Magellanic penguins directly attributed to global warming in one year.
Lynch stated that media "are cherry picking" her findings "for and against a climate-change story here." This is becoming the norm at the Daily Caller, which has a history of bastardizing science to dismiss the threat of climate change.
From the July 16 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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The cable business channel CNBC continued to push climate change denial on its network, hosting a professor who compared the "demonization" of carbon dioxide to the Holocaust.
Physics Professor William Happer has published no peer-reviewed research on climate change, yet co-host Joe Kernen introduced him as an "industry expert" on the July 14 edition of Squawk Box. After a softball interview with Kernen, co-host Andrew Ross Sorkin challenged Happer for "not believ[ing] in climate change" -- to which Happer responded by telling Sorkin to "shut up." Sorkin then asked Happer about comments he made to The Daily Princetonian in 2009 comparing climate science to Nazi propaganda. Happer doubled down on his comments, stating that "the demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler. Carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world, and so were the Jews."
Sorkin also noted that Happer, who has suggested that people should be "clamoring for more atmospheric carbon dioxide," is the chairman of the Marshall Institute, which received $865,000 from ExxonMobil from 1998 to 2011.
While Sorkin's pushback was admirable, it's difficult to determine what benefit CNBC is giving its business viewers by once again hosting Happer to push climate denial, especially as it's becoming clear that unchecked climate change is inherently an economic issue that provides serious risks to businesses. A 2013 Media Matters report found that 51 percent of CNBC's climate change coverage cast doubt on the basic fact that the Earth is warming and that the majority of recent warming is manmade, contrary to a consensus of 97 percent of scientists. The channel recently came under fire for soliciting a story about "global warming being a hoax."
CNBC might also be able to find a few scientists who question whether HIV causes AIDS, whether secondhand smoke is dangerous, or whether vaccines cause autism -- as all three have a few contrarian "experts" supporting their cause -- but it wouldn't be responsible to give them a platform.
The Heartland Institute, an organization notorious for its virulent climate denial, opened its conference on climate change with a German rap on the "Climate Swindle" that claims "saving the climate means wiping out the humans," according to an English translation.
The conference, which is being held in Las Vegas this week, featured a live performance by Austrian rapper Kilez More of "Klimawandel (Klimalüge, Klimaschwindel)" -- translation "Climate Change (Climate Lies, Climate Swindle)" -- alongside speakers who are largely industry-funded and have no scientific expertise. According to an English translation by the German climate denial blog NoTricksZone, the rap claims that hacked "Climategate" emails showed scientists "fudging the data" to fake warming, contrary to every independent investigation into the matter, in order to gain "more power, more money, more control, more global tax." The chorus repeats that "climate change was not made by man," shouting "nein!" Later, the rap really goes off the rails, claiming that climate change advocates believe that "there's only one way here to clean the planet / saving the climate means wiping out the humans."
A July 7 Heartland Institute press release quoted More stating he's "honored" and "pleased the Heartland Institute liked the song and invited me to present it live on stage."
You might have thought that after the Heartland Institute ran a billboard campaign in 2012 comparing those that accept climate science to the Unabomber -- later pulling the billboards but refusing to apologize -- that the media would have already stopped turning to the organization for analysis. However, The Washington Post, Bloomberg News, and Fox News all quoted Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast casting doubt on a 2013 scientific report by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, without noting that he has no climate expertise and previously denied the science showing secondhand smoke can lead to cancer.
The conference in Las Vegas is also being co-sponsored by Hubbard Broadcasting Inc., which owns mainstream television and radio stations across the country. What would it take for the media to stop taking the "kings of unintentional climate-comedy" seriously?
From the July 7 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes:
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They say comedy is just a funny way of being serious. So it's natural that a deepening climate crisis would produce a deepening well of climate comedy. We don't yet have our climate-themed Dr. Strangelove, but there's now a feature film's worth of gags, skits, and riffs exploring the lighter side of a cooking planet. Stand-up comics, from mainline stars like Louis C.K. to niche acts like the Christian comic Paul Kerensa, have mined climate change for material. Climate activist groups like 350.org have recently begun to take a cue from Comedy Central. Even NASA climatologists have gotten awkwardly into the act.
Like the global temperature, the phenomenon is on an upswing. In May, a New Yorker science blogger mused on the benefits of employing a "comedic frame" in climate coverage. A couple weeks later, the Guardian collected climate-comedy highpoints, from The Onion to "Ali G." The newest item on the list came from a May bit from an exasperated John Oliver on the media habit of "balancing" the climate consensus with fringe skeptics.
The biggest sign the genre is maturing hums with neon. Today, Chicago's Heartland Institute, the kings of unintentional climate-comedy, will hit the Vegas strip with a three-day show at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, featuring a chorus line's worth of hilarious climate rejectionists. The line-up will collectively perform the energy-policy equivalent of a Henny Youngman routine: "Take my planet capable of supporting civilization. Please!"
The think tank that flacked for Big Tobacco against the science of lung cancer will perform off the same playbook to flack for Big Carbon against the science of greenhouse gases. Tickets to see these self-styled climate researchers and political operatives -- almost none of whom are climate or earth systems scientists and nearly all of them funded at one- or two-degrees remove by oil and coal interests -- run $129, including meals.
On the Strip, Heartland speakers will pretend to be qualified to dissent from the equivalent to the National Academy of Sciences of every industrial country. Against the faint ring of slot machines, they'll dismiss the stark warnings of experts from 130 countries who contribute to the authoritative assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Because the first rule of improv comedy is "Yes, and...", some Heartland speakers will concede that, yes, man-made warming is occurring. The kicker comes when they echo Heartland's April report concluding that this is a net positive for all carbon-based life forms. With this pivot toward "Yes, and...", Heartland is ensuring they'll continue to have topical comedy fodder for years to come, even after their carbon denial becomes as outdated as their lung cancer material.
Heartland's Vegas appearance also suggests a strategy to avoid repeating the troupe's 2012 funding crisis. Instead of depending on corporate contributions, Heartland could find steady revenue as a regular sell-out act on the Strip. They aren't in a position to challenge Carrot Top for a headlining residency at the MGM Grand, but in a city whose economic base is expected to suffer devastating effects from climate change, there is a role for a group with years' worth of climate change gags, including slide shows and props. Heartland policy advisor Norman Rodgers, for example, would kill audiences with classic one-liners such as, "The few examples of coal or oil companies actually giving money to dissenters or dissenting organizations are so minor that one suspects that the gift was an accident or bureaucratic snafu." James Taylor would have them rolling with lines like, "I successfully completed Ivy League atmospheric science courses, so I'm a scientist by training."
If Don Rickles can make a Vegas career as the "Merchant of Venom," the folks at Heartland can make a run as the "Merchants of Doubt." The timing could not be better. Nevada's nearly 50 golf courses will likely soon be wilting under heat waves and water shortages, and the dwindling number of tourists visiting Vegas will want more air-conditioned entertainment. To draw these crowds, Heartland just needs to punch-up its clunky ad copy, which now reads, "Come to fabulous Las Vegas to meet leading scientists from around the world who question whether 'man-made global warming' will be harmful to plants, animals, or human welfare." A permanent show needs something that sparkles, like the tagline for the Cirque Du Soleil show "O: An aquatic masterpiece of surrealism and theatrical romance."
Heartland's might read, "Take the Money and Run: A planet-crushing masterpiece of delusion and breathtaking corruption."
There are other benefits to turning Heartland events into entertainment spectacles worthy of a Vegas marquee. Real scientists would no longer have to "tie up all our time fighting denialist propaganda," as astronomer Phil Plait put it. Instead, they could relegate Heartland coverage to the entertainment critics at Variety and Las Vegas Magazine. Heartland is a good bet to open to rave local reviews. They already have friends at the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Heartland is also getting into the movie side of show business. Its main co-sponsor in Vegas this week is the concurrent libertarian event, FreedomFest, held at Planet Hollywood. On Wednesday night, Heartland ticket-holders are invited to attend the debut the film, Atlas Shrugged 3: Where is John Galt? Fox Business host and popular climate comedian John Stossel will introduce the screening and broadcast his show from the FreedomFest floor.
Media Matters has produced brief playbill bios of Heartland's Vegas cast.
Sebastian L. Lüning
Refusing to act on climate change will be bad for business, according to a major recent report assessing the alarming risks of unchecked global warming on the U.S. economy. But while some top business media outlets recognize global warming as a serious issue for their audience, others are still stuck in denial.
On June 23, the Risky Business Project released a comprehensive analysis of the economic impacts of climate change in the United States. The study found that the current path of "business as usual" -- emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases responsible for driving catastrophic climate change without restrictions -- will reduce labor productivity of outdoor workers by up to three percent, reduce agricultural yields by up to 70 percent in some regions, and cost up to $507 billion in property damages from sea level rise by 2100. The co-chairs are calling for business to rein in their greenhouse gas emissions to prevent an economic crash on the scale of the 2008 financial crisis or worse.
However, some top U.S. business media outlets are denying that climate change is a problem worth addressing -- a disservice to their business viewers, who have a lot to lose. Here are the good, the bad, and the ugly cases of business media covering Risky Business:
In covering the study's findings, Bloomberg Television, a cable and satellite business news channel, featured an interview with former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, one of the report's co-chairs and a Republican. Bloomberg's Erik Schatzer began the interview by stating that "the research [on man-made climate change] is overwhelmingly conclusive," and went on to have a rational discussion about solutions to global warming that businesses can take today. Schatzer noted that Bloomberg Television is a child company of the media organization founded by Michael Bloomberg, another co-chair of Risky Business. Paulson suggested that businesses fully disclose their climate change risks, that they invest in "resilience," and that the nation "take out a national insurance policy" to respond to the impacts of climate change, adding that businesses must advocate for government policies that would allow the nation to "avoid the most adverse outcomes."
Paulson elaborated on "the cost of inaction" alongside former Treasury Secretary under President Bill Clinton, Robert Rubin, in a well-done interview on the June 29 edition of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS:
Fox Business's coverage of the Risky Business report ridiculed the impacts of climate change and brushed aside the findings as "scare tactics." On the June 24 edition of Cavuto, Fox Business contributor Lauren Simonetti asserted that the organization is using "scare tactics," going on to entirely dismiss the idea of increasing heat-related mortality, saying "what does that mean -- mortality?"
From the June 28 edition of Fox News' Cavuto on Business:
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CNBC sought someone to write about "global warming being a hoax" in order to counter a major new report that shows the economic cost of failing to take climate action.
As Republic Report first reported, the cable business channel CNBC reached out to DeSmogBlog, a website that rebuts climate change denial, to ask Alan Carlin, an economist who denies that the majority of recent warming is man-made, to write about "global warming being a hoax." (CNBC apparently mistakenly assumed that Carlin worked with DeSmogBlog because they had profiled him.) Media Matters has confirmed that Cindy Perman, the commentary editor of CNBC.com, sent the following message to DeSmogBlog:
Hi there. Given this new report on the cost of climate change, wanted to extend an invitation to Alan Carlin to write an op-ed for CNBC.com. Can be on the new report or just his general thoughts on global warming being a hoax.
As Media Matters has documented, the majority of CNBC's climate change coverage in 2013 falsely suggested that climate change is not occurring or that it is not mostly man-made, even though 97 percent of climate scientists say it is.
The new report that CNBC referred to in its message to DeSmogBlog is by the Risky Business Project, which found that on the planet's current path, as much as $507 billion worth of coastal properties will be underwater by 2100. Increasingly extreme heat will harm labor productivity, particularly agriculture, transportation and construction. Furthermore, the report found that unchecked climate change will diminish crop yields by more than 10 percent in roughly two decades, place greater demand on power grids and expose more people to the risk of heat- and cold-related death.
While the effects of climate change will not be uniform across the United States, the report notes that global warming already is taking its toll on parts of the nation and will continue to do so, hurting businesses and their bottom line.
This report shows why CNBC's choice to promote climate denial is misguided. Its business viewers would be better served by accurate information about the risks that climate change poses for many businesses.
From the June 26 edition of Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends:
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Journalists should not be duped into portraying anti-wind energy activist John Droz Jr. as simply a "physicist" and an expert on issues related to climate change. Droz has cast doubt on man-made climate change and undermined scientifically accurate sea-level rise predictions in North Carolina, despite admitting he has no expertise in either area.
Fox News is reviving accusations that NASA's peer-reviewed adjustments to temperature data are an attempt to "fak[e]" global warming, a claim that even a climate "skeptic" threw cold water on.
Tony Heller, a birther who criticizes climate science under the pseudonym "Steven Goddard," wrote a blog post that claimed "NASA cooled 1934 and warmed 1998, to make 1998 the hottest year in US history instead of 1934." After the Drudge Report promoted a report of this allegation by the conservative British newspaper The Telegraph, conservative media from Breitbart to The Washington Times claimed the data was "fabricated" or "faked." On June 24, Fox & Friends picked it up, claiming that "the U.S. has actually been cooling since the 1930s" but scientists had "faked the numbers":
However, the libertarian magazine Reason noted that even climate "skeptic" blogger Anthony Watts said that Goddard made "major errors in his analysis" and criticized the implication that "numbers are being plucked out of thin air in a nefarious way."
In fact, the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) and NASA, which both maintain temperature records that use slightly different methods but show close agreement, have publicly documented the peer-reviewed adjustments they make to raw data. NCDC states that the "most important bias in the U.S. temperature record occurred with the systematic change in observing times from the afternoon, when it is warm, to morning, when it is cooler," and so it must correct this cool bias as well as other biases that, for example, result from moving temperature stations.
NASA's data shows that the nation has not been "cooling" since the 1930s, with several years, including 2012, ranking hotter than 1934 in the continental United States, along with a long-term warming trend. And while The Sean Hannity Show claimed that this shows the "Earth has been cooling," the continental United States makes up less than 2 percent of the Earth's surface -- global surface temperatures have increased significantly.