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Economists Made Up 1 Percent Of Guests In The First Quarter Of 2016, While Shows Focused On Campaigns, Inequality
Expertise from economists was almost completely absent from television news coverage of the economy in the first quarter of 2016, which focused largely on the tax and economic policy platforms of this year’s presidential candidates. Coverage of economic inequality spiked during the period -- tying an all-time high -- driven in part by messaging from candidates on both sides of the aisle, but gender diversity in guests during economic news segments remained low.
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A Media Matters analysis of the broadcast evening and weekend TV news coverage of mass protests against money in politics organized by Democracy Awakening and Democracy Spring revealed that the networks devoted only two segments -- a total of 29 seconds of airtime -- between April 11 and April 18 to the week-long demonstrations.
The Obama administration has released a comprehensive new scientific report detailing how climate change affects human health, presenting the broadcast networks' nightly news programs with a good opportunity to cover a critical topic that they rarely addressed last year.
The Climate and Health Assessment, which is the result of three years of research by approximately 100 health and science experts in eight federal agencies, builds on the findings of the U.S. Global Change Research Program's National Climate Assessment and signifies increased "scientific confidence in the link between climate change and a broad range of threats to public health."
These threats include some of the most severe effects of global warming, such as increased incidence of death from extreme heat waves and worsened air quality, as well as some less discussed impacts, including the potential for carbon pollution to make our food crops less nutritious and the toll that weather-related disasters can take on our mental health. The report also details how climate change will increase or otherwise alter the risks of suffering from various diseases and illnesses, including Lyme disease from ticks, West Nile virus from mosquitos, water-borne illnesses, and Salmonella poisoning from food.
Any of these topics could provide fodder for an important and informative nightly news segment that would help viewers better understand the threats and challenges posed by climate change.
NBC Nightly News and CBS Evening News did each provide a substantial report last year on the ways climate change is impacting allergies and asthma, respectively. But here, too, the Obama administration report provides opportunities for additional coverage.
For instance, the networks could examine these issues from an environmental justice perspective; the report finds that minority adults and children "bear a disproportionate burden associated with asthma as measured by emergency department visits, lost work and school days, and overall poorer health status." And when considering all of the various health impacts, the report identifies many specific populations that are "disproportionately vulnerable" to climate change:
[C]limate change exacerbates some existing health threats and creates new public health challenges. While all Americans are at risk, some populations are disproportionately vulnerable, including those with low income, some communities of color, immigrant groups (including those with limited English proficiency), Indigenous peoples, children and pregnant women, older adults, vulnerable occupational groups, persons with disabilities, and persons with preexisting or chronic medical conditions.
The networks could also cover some of these public health findings alongside a distressing new study on sea level rise, which projects severe impacts on coastal cities that will undoubtedly have profound implications on the health and well-being of millions of Americans. Or they could address the public health benefits of the most significant U.S. climate policy in U.S. history, the Clean Power Plan, which the networks infrequently covered in 2015 -- and which polluting fossil fuel industry groups and allied attorneys general are now fighting in court.
Major news outlets including The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, The Guardian, Time magazine, The Associated Press, and McClatchyDC have already covered the new White House report. Now is the time for the broadcast networks' nightly news programs to improve on last year's coverage and educate their viewers about the myriad ways that a changing climate is affecting our health.
Image at top via Flickr user Graeme Maclean using a Creative Commons license.
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A new climate change study "jolts sea-rise predictions," according to The Washington Post, with sea levels projected to increase so much that The New York Times says they would "likely provoke a profound crisis within the lifetimes of children being born today." This disturbing news made the top-fold front pages of the Post and the Times, but it was completely ignored by the broadcast television networks' nightly news programs.
The study, published on March 31 in the journal Nature, found that global warming could cause the Antarctic ice sheet to collapse, in part through a process previously "underappreciated" in sea level rise models. Combined with ice melting in other areas, the study projects that sea levels could rise about six feet by the end of the century, an estimate roughly double that of the most widely cited worst-case scenario. This amount of sea level rise would put hundreds of millions of people in cities and coastal areas around the world at risk of inundation, including New York City, Boston, Miami, New Orleans, and other major U.S. cities. (As Gizmodo bluntly put it, "Florida is screwed."). The study also projects that seas will rise nearly 50 feet by 2500, which as the Post's Capital Weather Gang noted, would result in even more catastrophic consequences:
In the study's projection for 2500, almost the entire state of Delaware would disappear. Much of Manhattan and Brooklyn would be reduced to just slivers of their current selves. The southern coast of Florida would end north of Lake Okeechobee. California's Central Valley would flood from Modesto to Colusa, and the state capital of Sacramento would be entirely under water.
The new study does come with a silver lining, according to the Times: "A far more stringent effort to limit emissions of greenhouse gases would stand a fairly good chance of saving West Antarctica from collapse, scientists found. That aspect of their paper contrasts with other recent studies postulating that a gradual disintegration of West Antarctica may have already become unstoppable."
The nightly newscasts' failure to cover this study follows a paltry year of climate change coverage on the broadcast networks in 2015. A Media Matters study found that ABC, CBS, and NBC collectively devoted less time to covering climate change during their nightly news and Sunday show broadcasts than they did in the previous year, even though 2015 was a landmark year for climate-related news that included the EPA finalizing the Clean Power Plan, Pope Francis issuing a climate change encyclical, President Obama rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, and 195 countries around the world reaching a historic climate agreement in Paris.
Unlike the network news broadcasts, CNN and MSNBC both aired segments about the new study. On CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper, Tapper introduced a segment about the study by stating that the West Antarctic ice sheet is "disintegrating so fast your kids and your grandkids, well, they might not be able to dream about living in New York City or Philadelphia or Washington or Miami because there might not be a New York City or Philadelphia or Washington or Miami at the turn of the century":
Similarly, on MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes, Hayes reported that "there's new evidence that ... the nightmare, worst case scenario" about global warming "will unfold in decades rather than centuries," and interviewed Columbia University climate scientist Radley Horton to discuss the sea level study's significance:
With 20 presidential primary debates now completed, debate moderators have only asked 22 questions about climate change, which is just 1.5 percent of the 1,477 questions posed. In addition, the moderators were more than twice as likely to ask a climate question to a Democratic candidate than to a Republican candidate, and they have not asked a single climate question to Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, the two front-runners for the GOP presidential nomination. Nearly one-third of the climate questions were asked in the two most recent debates in Miami, following a bipartisan group of 21 Florida mayors urging the networks to address the issue in those debates.
It is nothing short of stunning that in 2015, a year that featured more newsworthy climate-related events than ever before, the broadcast networks' coverage of climate change declined. The networks have a responsibility to educate the public about the impacts that climate change is having on our security, our economy, and our health.
In response to Media Matters' new analysis of climate change coverage on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox in 2015, members of Congress, climate scientists, environmental advocates, and other experts criticized the networks for providing too little climate change coverage and too much climate science denial.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI): "In a year when nearly 200 countries around the world collectively recognized the threat of climate change and the United States made historic commitments to cut carbon pollution, major networks actually cut their media coverage of climate change. In 2015, the network Sunday shows devoted just 73 minutes to climate change, a ten percent decrease from the year before. What makes these findings even more troubling is the fact that with the little time devoted to climate change, these Sunday shows continued to mislead their audiences by including climate denial as part of the discussion. The facts are clear. Scientists, governments, and major corporations around the world have accepted the facts about climate change and are having real debates on solutions. In this consequential election year, it's time for news broadcasters to do the same."
Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY): "As the co-founder of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, I read Media Matters' new study and it's a wake up call to the news networks. The most important long term global and national issue shouldn't be getting short-thrift. People need more information, not less."
Michael Mann, climate scientist at Penn State University: "It is unconscionable that so many purportedly mainstream media outlets continue to misinform the public when it comes to the matter of human-caused climate change. History will not look back kindly upon television news networks that had an opportunity to inform the public about this existential threat, and instead chose to serve as willing mouthpieces for denialist fossil fuel interests."
Kevin Trenberth, climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research: "These results are disturbing. ... It is evident that the networks are gun shy about climate change, most likely because advertisers demand it. It is a very sad state of affairs that the science of climate change and the continuing evidence about it is hidden from listeners. What is done about the problem should be a separate matter entirely from whether we have a problem. Climate change is already with us and is causing mostly adverse effects every day, but the public is not well informed."
Liz Perera, Sierra Club climate policy director: "This past year, we have seen unprecedented progress tackling the unprecedented danger that climate change poses to our families, yet the major networks seem to dedicate more time to covering the Kardashians than this public health crisis. Americans deserve to know the truth about how the climate crisis is affecting the world around us and how clean energy is helping solve the problem. Ignoring that reality only serves the interests of the big polluters and undermines the health and well-being of all American families."
David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen's climate program: "It is beyond shocking that broadcast network coverage of climate change declined in 2015. If we don't act quickly to mitigate climate change, it will cause devastating harm to our economy, our health, and our security. Last year's high temperatures shattered the previous record, set just one year earlier. At the same time, 2015 was probably the most momentous year in history on climate change, with a landmark Paris deal, the Obama Administration's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline, the first-ever federal rules curbing carbon pollution from power plants, the Pope's encyclical, and more. The media should be covering climate change as if it were World War III, and they have plenty of material to work with. It's a travesty of journalism to commit such a small and declining amount of air time to the existential threat we face from runaway greenhouse gas emissions."
Riley Dunlap, environmental sociologist at Oklahoma State University: "I am not surprised that there was more TV coverage of climate change denial in 2015, as historically there is a pattern of the 'denial machine' ramping up its efforts whenever the possibility of meaningful action on climate change seems imminent. This began with the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, and has continued, so I'm not surprised to see more coverage of denialists last year because of the Paris [climate agreement]. The conservative think tanks and front groups behind the denial campaign, and the small number of contrarian scientists aligned with them, have great success in obtaining media exposure in general. And they really go into overdrive when they fear that national legislation or an international treaty could be enacted. The disappointing thing is that mainstream media still give them a forum."
ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox collectively spent five percent less time covering climate change in 2015, even though there were more newsworthy climate-related events than ever before, including the EPA finalizing the Clean Power Plan, Pope Francis issuing a climate change encyclical, President Obama rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, and 195 countries around the world reaching a historic climate agreement in Paris. The decline was primarily driven by ABC, whose climate coverage dropped by 59 percent; the only network to dramatically increase its climate coverage was Fox, but that increase largely consisted of criticism of efforts to address climate change. When the networks did discuss climate change, they rarely addressed its impacts on national security, the economy, or public health, yet most still found time to provide a forum for climate science denial. On a more positive note, CBS and NBC -- and PBS, which was assessed separately -- aired many segments that explored the state of scientific research or detailed how climate change is affecting extreme weather, plants, and wildlife.
In a March 2 report, the Washington Post reported that the Department of Justice granted immunity to Bryan Pagliano, an aide of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who allegedly set up her private email server. In their coverage of the report, nightly news programs on CBS, ABC, and NBC hyped claims that Pagliano's immunity signaled a troubling development for Hillary Clinton -- while neglecting to inform viewers that Pagliano's "limited immunity" is commonly requested and received in these types of investigations, and is "not indicative of guilt."
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With the presidential primary season in full swing, prime-time cable and broadcast evening news coverage of the economy focused on the candidates' policy priorities in the second half of 2015. News coverage of economic inequality fell considerably after hitting an all-time high in the first half of the year.
Six Years After Citizens United, Coverage Of Campaign Finance Reform Has Room For Improvement
On the sixth anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, PBS remains the gold standard for coverage of campaign finance reform while other broadcast networks show room for improvement, according to a Media Matters review of their evening and Sunday news shows over the past 16 months. While coverage of the subject has increased across the board, with CBS in particular showing a substantial increase, a sizable fraction of the increase is due to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) raising the issue in interviews on Sunday programs, rather than proactive efforts by journalists to cover campaign finance reform.
327 Minutes Of Trump Coverage, 141 Minutes For Clinton And Sanders
Donald Trump didn't announce his candidacy until mid-June of last year, but still managed to be covered as the second biggest news story for all of 2015 on the network evening newscasts.
Between ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News, Trump's campaign captured 327 minutes of airtime, according to television news analyst Andrew Tyndall (ABC: 121, CBS: 84, NBC: 122 minutes, respectively). That figure doesn't include the network newscasts' coverage of the Republican debates, which garnered an additional 123 minutes of airtime.
Context: ABC's evening news broadcast produced almost as much Trump coverage last year as it did for the Ebola panic in 2014.
How does Trump's 327 minutes compare to other candidates this year and to coverage for previous campaign cycles? Trump's figure is off the charts. Over the last decade, the networks' evening newscasts have never showered a presidential campaign with the kind of attention they gave Trump one year before the White House vote even takes place.
More context: Trump received 327 minutes of evening network airtime one year before the general election campaign. In 2012, during the general election campaign, President Obama's re-election run garnered just 157 minutes of airtime.
Trump has famously had to spend very little money on his campaign to date, in part because of the orgy of free media he receives in the form of news coverage. Media Matters recently calculated that, thanks to over 24 hours of Trump interviews Fox News hosted between May and the end of 2015, the conservative cable channel provided the Republican with nearly $30 million in free media.
Last year, the Republican frontrunner received nearly three times as much coverage as the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton: 327 minutes for Trump, compared to 121 minutes for Clinton (ABC: 35, CBS: 24, NBC: 62.) Note that the controversy over Clinton's personal emails last year received 88 minutes of airtime, while the Republican-fueled Benghazi story grabbed 29 minutes. That means the network newscasts devoted nearly as much time to emails and Benghazi in 2015 as they did to Clinton's entire campaign.
As for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, Media Matters previously highlighted that from January through November, ABC World News Tonight dedicated just one minute to the Sanders campaign, an astonishing oversight. For Tyndall's final, year-end tally, ABC bumped that one minute up to four minutes. Sanders received a total of 20 minutes of network newscast coverage in 2015, compared to Trump's 327.
Combined, the Republican field of candidates, and their debates, received 701 minutes of airtime, compared to 248 minutes for Democrats in the field.
But note that a big chunk of that Democratic tally, 73 minutes, was set aside for political speculation surrounding Vice President Joe Biden, who decided not to run. So in terms of Democrats who entered the race and who participated in the debates, the network evening news total for 2015 was 175 minutes, compared to 701 minutes for Republicans, or a 526-minute gap.
With the networks setting aside so much time for Trump, other areas of news were cut back. (i.e. There's a finite number of minutes for each newscast.) According to Tyndall, "Foreign policy received less than half its average annual coverage; domestic policy barely more than half." Specifically, economic news last year received the least amount of coverage in 28 years.
The Beltway media have been crowing a lot about the unfolding "Trump phenomenon." Guess who played a crucial role in creating it?