In 2014, PBS NewsHour provided far more climate change-related segments and interviewed far more climate scientists than the nightly news programs at ABC and NBC, while also outperforming CBS. Additionally, like CBS Evening News, PBS NewsHour managed to avoid airing any segments that provided a platform for climate science deniers, whereas NBC Nightly News and ABC's World News Tonight both featured a segment in which a guest either denied that climate change is occurring or questioned the scientific findings of the National Climate Assessment.
Although it airs for twice as long as its broadcast network counterparts, PBS NewsHour's number of climate segments and scientists more than made up for this difference, particularly in comparison to ABC's World News Tonight. PBS NewsHour, which runs for 60 minutes, aired 45 reports last year that covered climate change. By comparison, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and ABC's World News Tonight, which are each 30 minute programs, aired 22, 14, and 11 climate-related reports in 2014, respectively. PBS NewsHour's 45 climate-related reports were a substantial increase over 2013, when the program aired 35 such reports.
PBS NewsHour also provided scientific perspectives in climate change stories more often than any of the other major networks, interviewing or quoting 27 scientists over the course of the year. In comparison, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News interviewed or quoted 11 and 7 scientists, respectively, while ABC's World News Tonight interviewed or quoted just two scientists.
Scientists lent their insight on a range of topics on PBS NewsHour, providing perspective on landmark reports on climate change, describing the impact of climate change on wildlife habitats, and illustrating how climate change is already having an impact on communities in places as disparate as Alaska and Florida. For example, in a two-part special on climate change's impacts in Alaska, PBS NewsHour interviewed paleoclimatologists, geophysicists, oceanographers, and ecologists to detail how climate change is threatening local wildlife and a centuries-old way of life for many Alaskans.
The recent announcement by NOAA and NASA that 2014 was the warmest year on record should serve as the starkest reminder yet that climate change is an issue deserving of mainstream media coverage. The networks' nightly news programs -- and ABC's World News Tonight in particular -- would do well to follow PBS NewsHour's lead by improving the quality and quantity of their climate change coverage.
From the January 29 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Some conservative media figures have touted the intensity of the recent blizzard that hit the northeast, some have claimed that it is no different than snow storms from the past, and others have deemed the blizzard much less severe than originally forecast. But the one thing they all agree on is that the blizzard somehow disproves the firmly established science of global warming.
On January 28, Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) released a statement in response to Media Matters' study detailing how the major broadcast networks covered climate change in 2014. The Media Matters analysis found that although the networks increased their coverage of climate change, the Sunday shows still underrepresented scientists and most of them provided a platform for climate science deniers.
Sen. Schatz stated that the networks' increase in climate coverage is "not enough," and that he "remain[s] deeply concerned about both the lack and the quality of the coverage." He concluded: "It is time for broadcasters to stop creating a false debate about the reality of climate change and engage in the real debate about how we can solve it."
Sen. Schatz's full press release read:
Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai'i) today released the following statement in response to a new Media Matters report detailing how broadcast networks covered climate change in 2014:
"While I am pleased that broadcast media coverage of climate change has increased this year, it is not enough," said Senator Schatz. "I remain deeply concerned about both the lack and the quality of the coverage. This new report shows that Sunday shows still aired segments that misled audiences and ignored the scientific consensus by framing the facts of climate change as a "debate". The debate is over. Human-caused climate change is accepted by Fortune 500 companies, school-teachers, religious groups, the United States military, nurses and doctors, professional sports leagues, the majority of other countries, and over 97 percent of climate scientists. It is time for broadcasters to stop creating a false debate about the reality of climate change and engage in the real debate about how we can solve it."
The total coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox continued to increase for the third consecutive year, according to a Media Matters analysis, yet still remained below the level seen in 2009. Coverage on the networks' Sunday shows reached a six-year high after a group of senators demanded they provide more coverage of the issue, but the Sunday shows still infrequently interviewed scientists.
From the January 27 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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CNN and Fox News repeatedly reported on the Keystone XL pipeline without connecting it to a major oil spill near the pipeline's proposed route. By contrast, MSNBC and others in the media have reported on the spill, which occurred in the Yellowstone River in Montana, in the context of concerns about Keystone XL's environmental risks.
Oil Pipeline Leaked 50,000 Gallons Of Crude Into Yellowstone River. On January 17, an oil pipeline owned by Bridger Pipeline Co. spilled 1,200 barrels of crude oil -- or about 50,000 gallons -- into the Yellowstone River, prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency. Reuters reported:
A small but heavily subscribed pipeline that transports 42,000 barrels a day of crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken region is expected to remain closed on Tuesday after a weekend breach that spilled 1,200 barrels of crude into the Yellowstone River near Glendive, Montana.
Montana Governor Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency in the state's eastern Dawson and Richland counties on Monday while towns and cities downstream, including Williston, North Dakota, are monitoring their water systems in case of contamination.
However the water supply of Glendive, the town of 5,000 about 10 miles (16 km) downstream of the spill, has already been tested and found to have elevated levels of hydrocarbons. Water intakes in the river for the city have been closed, according to the EPA. The company, EPA and other agencies are trying to get other drinking water supplies for Glendive, the EPA's Mylott said. [Reuters, 1/20/15]
On January 21, 98 U.S. senators voted to affirm that "climate change is real and not a hoax." But the media should not misconstrue that vote as evidence that the Republican-led Senate is now seeing eye-to-eye with scientists on the issue. Moments later, 49 senators voted to deny that "human activity significantly contributes to climate change" - the position held by the vast majority of climate scientists.
Climate scientists say that human activity is not only a "significant" cause of climate change; they say it's the primary cause. According to the latest report by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), "It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century." The IPCC defines "extremely likely" as having 95-100% probability. NASA similarly notes: "Most climate scientists agree the main cause of the current global warming trend is human expansion of the 'greenhouse effect' -- warming that results when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space."
But some Senators who deny the science may be hoping the media won't call them out on a sleight of hand in which they vote to acknowledge that "climate change is real" while continuing to maintain that it is only happening because of natural causes. This is akin to conservative media pundits and other climate science deniers who frequently declare that "the climate is always changing."
When it comes to discussing climate change, the issue of causation is central. It's impossible to have a debate about how to address climate change without first agreeing that human activity -- specifically the burning of fossil fuels -- is causing it. Climate scientists settled that question a long time ago, but the debate continues to play out in the Senate, a point that should not get lost in media coverage of the Senate's acknowledgement that "climate change is real."
The Washington Post has allowed opinion writer Ed Rogers to advocate for the positions and interests of his lobbying firm's clients in numerous anti-environmental pieces. The Post and Rogers have not disclosed his major conflicts of interest even though his firm received over $1.6 million in fees in 2014 alone from energy and transportation clients like Chevron, Caterpillar, and the National Mining Association.
Rogers is a Republican strategist who chairs and co-founded the BGR Group with former Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) in 1991. As the Post itself has reported, the firm is one of the top Washington D.C. lobbying firms, having banked more than $15 million in 2014. The newspaper's reporters have described Rogers as a "Republican mega-lobbyist," "lobbyist extraordinaire," and "a go-to guy for Republicans."
One of BGR's practice areas is energy and transportation, where it professes to having "the industry expertise, Capitol Hill experience and knowledge of government to successfully advocate our clients' public policy goals." Rogers is listed as a group leader for the issue area.
On his Post "Insiders" blog, Rogers frequently advocates for positions favored by his energy and transportation clients. While the Post notes that Rogers is "a political consultant" and "chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group," the publication fails to disclose Rogers' firm's clients and conflicts of interest in his anti-environmental posts. For instance:
Misinformer of the Year George Will reversed the timeline of events surrounding President Obama's threat to veto a bill forcing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and distorted a quote from Obama about the number of jobs Keystone XL would create.
In his January 15 syndicated column, Will wrote, "[T]here no longer is any reason to think [Obama] has ever reasoned about [Keystone XL]. He said he would not make up his mind until the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled. It ruled to permit construction, so he promptly vowed to veto authorization of construction." However, Will's version of events is backward.Obama announced on January 7 that he would veto H.R. 3, the House of Representatives bill that would force theapproval of Keystone XL. That was two days before the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled on January 9 that a group of landowners did not have standing to challenge the state over a law that approved the pipeline's route through the state.
Moreover, Obama emphasized in his announcement that he would veto the bill not just because of ongoing litigation in Nebraska, but also because the bill "seeks to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether cross-border pipelines serve the national interest." When asked about the Nebraska court decision on January 9, White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz similarly stated that the Obama administration's "position hasn't changed" and that Obama would still veto the bill and then wait for the State Department review process to play out before he "makes any decisions" regarding Keystone XL.
Will also mischaracterized a quote from Obama to falsely suggest the president had touted job numbers for the pipeline that were at odds with the State Department's own estimates. Will claimed: "[Obama] said it would create 'a couple thousand' jobs (the State Department study says approximately 42,100 'direct, indirect, and induced')." However, the full quote shows Obama said that "the construction of the pipeline itself will create probably a couple thousand jobs" (emphasis added). Obama's figure is entirely consistent with the State Department's Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which said:
During construction, proposed Project spending would support approximately 42,100 jobs (direct, indirect, and induced), and approximately $2 billion in earnings throughout the United States. Of these jobs, approximately 3,900 would be direct construction jobs in the proposed Project area in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas (3,900 over 1 year of construction, or 1,950 per year if construction took 2 years).
Finally, Will turned to mocking the environmental concerns of pipeline opponents: "To oppose the pipeline is to favor more oil being transported by trains, which have significant carbon footprints, and accidents. To do this in the name of environmental fastidiousness is hilarious." However, there is no shortage of studies that back up environmentalists' concerns and contradict Will's claim that the tar sands oil that would flow through Keystone XL will simply be "transported by trains" if the pipeline is not built. In fact, even the State Department report, which considered it unlikely that building Keystone XL would significantly affect the production of carbon-intensive Canadian tar sands oil, noted that the pipeline could do so if oil prices fell below $75 a barrel -- which is exactly what has happened since the report came out.
Environmentalists view stopping Keystone XL as a critical part of addressing climate change, and Will has a long record of denying that climate change is a real, manmade problem with drastic consequences.
Many news outlets are uncritically touting the State Department's conclusion that building the Keystone XL pipeline would not significantly worsen climate change without noting that this determination was based on an expectation of high oil prices. Some media outlets, however, have reported the significance of the recent plunge in oil prices, such as the Associated Press, which noted that "[l]ow oil prices could make the pipeline more important to the development of new oil sands projects in Canada than anticipated by the State Department ... and therefore is more likely to increase emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming."
From the January 15 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Fox News consistently pushes fears of government "land grabs" surrounding environmental regulations. But the network celebrated the recent court decision allowing TransCanada to force construction of the Keystone XL pipeline on private land -- with no mention of the threat to landowner rights.
The Nebraska Supreme Court recently overturned a lower court ruling that would have protected the property rights of landowners who do not want the Keystone XL pipeline built on their land and fear that a spill could devastate region's drinking water and agriculture-based economy. As CBS reported, the ruling upheld a 2012 law allowing Canadian oil firm TransCanada to "seize property using eminent domain from any landowners who deny the developer access." A majority of Nebraska's Supreme Court -- four of the seven judges -- actually voted that the statute authorizing TransCanada's use of eminent domain was unconstitutional, but that fell just short of the supermajority (of at least five judges) necessary to make such a ruling.
Rather than address the decision's impact on property rights, Fox News celebrated the ruling by repeating the GOP talking point that President Obama is now out of "excuses" for stalling on Keystone XL as the GOP attempts to pass legislation forcing its approval in Congress this week. On the January 9 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, digital politics editor Chris Stirewalt reported that the ruling "basically removes... the last obstacle or excuse for the administration and President Obama saying that it was not ripe for a decision." On the January 9 edition of Special Report, Correspondent Mike Emanuel stated that "New Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said now the President is out of excuses." And on the January 12 edition of America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer posited that the White House may have "run out of excuses on Keystone," and Republican strategist Tony Sayegh agreed:
George Will is citing past shifts in the climate to cast doubt on the scientific consensus that human behavior is currently driving global warming, despite the fact that those previous shifts actually demonstrate the need to take action on climate change.
On January 8, The Washington Post published Will's syndicated column, headlined "Climate change's instructive past," in which he discussed two books about previous climate shifts -- the Medieval Warming Period and the Little Ice Age. Will asserted, "of course the climate is changing -- it always is," and warned against "wagering vast wealth and curtailments of liberty on correcting the climate."
Without explaining his reasoning, Will claimed the books do not "support those who believe human behavior is the sovereign or even primary disrupter of climate normality." But Will ignored the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is the main cause of recent global warming. Further, Will's myopic view of history ignores the wealth of scientific evidence showing that greenhouse gases -- which are currently at record levels due to the burning of fossil fuels -- have been the principal factor in prior climate changes.
As Climate Nexus pointed out, Will actually missed the lesson from his historical examples -- that climate change left unchecked will have devastating impacts:
Contrary to [Will's] claim, past changes in our climate should be understood as a warning, but shouldn't be seen as evidence that current climatic change is naturally occurring, as he suggests.
The problem with this claim is that human-made emissions have increased exponentially since Will's historical examples. Science has clearly shown how current human-made climate change is very different from earlier slower natural changes, something Will failed to factor.
More accurately, historical climate change provides insight into problems we can expect in the future as greenhouse gases are increasingly amplifying variations in our climate. Historical trends should, instead, serve as a stark warning of what we can expect from the emission-driven warming we're experiencing now.
ThinkProgress' Joe Romm called Will's logic "exactly backwards." Pointing out that climate change has occurred naturally in the past does not disprove the fact that it is happening unnaturally now, as Romm analogized: "[I]t would be exactly the same as saying that because people who didn't smoke have died of cardiopulmonary disease and lung cancer, we can't know that cigarette smoking also causes those diseases and is unhealthy." He added that "climate scientists now have the same degree of certainty that human-caused emissions are changing the climate as they do that cigarette smoking is harmful."
Will is infamous for his climate misinformation -- over the past few years, other writers have called his misunderstanding of science "mystifying" and asserted that he is "helping to muddle our collective scientific literacy." Will's misleading coverage of climate science in his columns sparked a petition in 2014, signed by more than 100,000 people, urging The Washington Post to exclude climate misinformation from its pages.
As the newly GOP-controlled Senate attempts to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, the long-debunked myth that the pipeline would create 42,000 jobs continues to pervade in the media -- despite the fact that it will create only 35 permanent jobs:
For many years conservative media and the the GOP have framed the Keystone XL pipeline -- which would transport highly greenhouse gas-intensive Canadian tar sands oil to the Gulf of Mexico for export to the global oil market -- as a job creation policy, often claiming that the project would create 42,000 new jobs.
Over time, that message has made its way into mainstream media -- even after being debunked by studies and outlets such as Politifact, the Washington Post Fact Checker, and more -- by both Republican Senators who tout misleading job benefits without being corrected and by media pundits themselves.
But an exhaustive study by the State Department concluded that the Keystone XL project will result in just 50 jobs, including "35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors." Further, the report stated that spending on the project would support only 3,900 temporary construction jobs if construction lasted one year and just 1,950 temporary construction jobs if construction lasted two years. The report also states that a majority of potential other jobs supported by the project would come from "indirect and induced spending," yet a recent Washington Post article detailed how the "indirect" job estimates themselves don't hold up, as some have already been created in anticipation of the pipeline, and most would last for less than a year:
"42,000 new jobs" is going too far. Most of those jobs are far from the construction site, and it's hard to argue they are new. Moreover, under State's accounting, they only last for a year. For some workers, it would be a good but brief payday.