A group of senators is asking for more broadcast coverage on climate change, following a Media Matters analysis which found that Sunday shows aired only scant coverage on the issue last year.
On Thursday, January 16, a letter spearheaded by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was sent to the top executives of four major television networks, expressing "deep concern" about the lack of coverage on global warming, deeming it a "serious environmental crisis" which "poses a huge threat to our nation and the global community." The letter cited findings from a recent Media Matters study, which revealed that Sunday news shows dedicated merely 27 minutes of coverage to the issue of climate change throughout all of 2013. They wrote that "this is an absurdly short amount of time for a subject of such importance."
The senators concluded with a call to action: "We urge you to take action in the near term to correct this oversight and provide your viewers, the American public, with greater discussion of this important issue that impacts everyone on the planet."
The other senators that signed the letter were Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).
The letter in full:
Dear Mr. Ailes, Mr. Rhodes, Mr. Sherwood, and Ms. Turness:
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.
A study published today by Media Matters for America reported that Sunday news shows devoted 27 minutes of air time in 2013 to climate change coverage.
Although it is a modest improvement over the eight minutes of coverage in 2012, given the widely recognized challenge that climate change poses to the nation and the world, this is an absurdly short amount of time for a subject of such importance.
We are more than aware that major fossil fuel companies spend significant amounts of money advertising on your networks. We hope that this is not influencing your decision about the subjects discussed or the guests who appear on your network programming.
Thank you very much for your interest in this matter. We urge you to take action in the near term to correct this oversight and provide your viewers, the American public, with greater discussion of this important issue that impacts everyone on the planet. We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT)
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD)
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
Senator Christopher Murphy (D-CT)
Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI)
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
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.
In the second half of 2013, weekday broadcast and cable evening news discussed Social Security in a largely negative light by repeatedly insisting that the program is insolvent, must be cut, or poses a risk to long-term fiscal security.
Weekday broadcast and cable evening news continue to place undue focus on government spending cuts and deficit reduction, pushing a narrative that is out of touch with economic reality.
Media Matters research revealed that throughout the fourth quarter of 2013, weekday broadcast and cable nightly news programs were more likely to advocate for deficit reduction than economic growth and job creation. Out of a total 890 segments on the economy, 250 saw the host or guest mention deficit reduction as an economic priority, while only 204 segments mentioned the need for economic growth and job creation.
Of course, Fox News led the charge in calling for deficit reduction, echoing trends seen in previous quarters.
Media's focus on deficit reduction was a constant theme throughout 2013, a theme increasingly out of touch with economic realities.
While broadcast and cable evening news programs were clamoring about the need for deficit reduction, in fiscal year 2013, the Treasury posted the smallest budget deficit since 2008. The same news programs that advocated for deficit reduction, however, were unlikely to mention this fact -- only 15 total segments over the fourth quarter noted that deficits are in decline.
Meanwhile, economic growth and job creation, while taking a backseat in media coverage, still remain a persistent problem in the U.S. economy. Many economists have repeatedly argued that sluggish economic growth and weak job creation are directly tied to an undue policy focus on deficit reduction. But with the recent government shutdown and budget negotiations taking place, weekday broadcast and cable evening news coverage consistently turned the debate back to deficit and debt reduction and away from more pressing issues like unemployment.
Maybe this is why only six percent of Americans know the deficit is shrinking.
Weekday broadcast and cable evening news covered a variety of economic topics including deficit reduction, economic growth, and effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) throughout the fourth quarter of 2013. A Media Matters analysis shows that many of these segments lacked proper context or input from economists, with Fox News continuing to advance the erroneous notion that the ACA is the purported cause behind poor job growth.
Much of the Affordable Care Act (the ACA, also known as Obamacare), went into effect on January 1, 2014. Major evening news broadcasts focused on different aspects of the law's effects and the extent to which the law will benefit consumers.
The past 12 months witnessed innumerable attacks on social safety net programs in the United States. These attacks on American social insurance programs were hardly limited to Social Security -- all forms of social insurance, including unemployment benefits, food stamps, and disability, came under fire from mainstream and conservative media alike, regardless of the programs' social or economic benefits. Media Matters compiled a list of the six types of attacks on the social safety net in 2013.
For more than three years, an influential study by two Harvard economists -- Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff -- provided a plausible foundation for attacks on spending of all types. The study fostered debt-paranoia among pundits otherwise interested in austere fiscal policies.
An April study by economists at the University of Massachusetts, however, concluded that the Reinhart-Rogoff data was error-filled in a way that selectively biased the results. A further review of the corrected data by economists at the University of Michigan found that the study should have been deemed inconclusive.
Despite losing its intellectual foundation in April, the deficit reduction talking point maintained a prominent position in fiscal policy discussion throughout the year.
Media calls for deficit reduction in the past year also regularly relied on budget reporting that lacked adequate context that federal budget deficits have declined precipitously from their 2009 peak. A Media Matters review of budget reporting done by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post revealed that a sizeable majority of articles provided budget items and program spending figures out of context. Further analysis concluded this misrepresentative reporting to be little more than a scare tactic, which bolstered calls for deeper cuts to the safety net for the sake of alleged fiscal responsibility.
This lack of context in media, and the effect it had in shifting the policy debate, eventually encouraged Times public editor Margaret Sullivan to issue a statement promising to correct problematic reporting standards going forward, but other outlets have yet to follow suit.
Following Texas State Senator Wendy Davis' June 25, 2013, filibuster of extreme restrictions on reproductive health clinics in Texas, national evening broadcast and cable news programs have provided extensive coverage of issues pertaining to women's reproductive rights. The vast majority of segments, however, failed to identify or discuss the key economic benefits of access to reproductive health care, including its role in reducing economic insecurity.
Broadcast evening news programs slanted coverage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by hyping negative aspects of the law's rollout while underplaying or not exploring positive changes to insurance coverage under the health care law, including the role that subsidies would play in making health care affordable. All three major broadcast networks aired more segments that took on a negative tone than a positive tone in October and November 2013, according to a Media Matters study.
In 2013, broadcast evening news programs have largely ignored the need for the economy to return to full employment, instead placing overwhelming focus on debt and deficit reduction.
After weeks of highlighting negative aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), media outlets have largely underreported the law's success in helping slow the growth of health care costs.
Network nightly news broadcasts have served as a conduit for House Republicans to attack Obama administration initiatives through committee hearings -- all part of the GOP's "aggressive campaign," according to a recent New York Times report, to hold committee hearings and rely on media to cover the hearings' chosen narrative.
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.
Former NBC News president Lawrence Grossman is the latest veteran news chief to call on 60 Minutes to better explain why it allowed a story on the 2012 Benghazi attack that was based on the lies of a now discredited source to air.
Grossman, who headed NBC News from 1984 to 1988 and also served as PBS CEO for many years, said once CBS News discovered former British security contractor Dylan Davies had lied about being at the attack site they should have "jumped in with both feet, and hands and everything else."
The October 27 segment featured Davies' heroic eyewitness account of the attacks, the same story he told in a book published by a CBS division. The network aired the story despite knowing that Davies had previously told his employer that he had never made it to the U.S. diplomatic compound on the night it was attacked. CBS finally retracted the story and apologized after learning that Davies had told the FBI the same story he had told his boss, but has not fully detailed how such a flawed story was broadcast.
Although 60 Minutes just this week revealed it was conducting an "journalistic review" of the story, Grossman stressed that the network should have been forthcoming sooner and should be providing more details about what the review will entail.
"I think CBS has an obligation now that the whole thing has been aired to let people know what they are doing to investigate exactly what happened," Grossman said in a November 14 phone interview. "How it came about and to be as specific and clear in what's going on with their examination of the matter."
Grossman added, "I think it's a big mistake for news divisions to be reluctant to apologize because the integrity of what they do is so important."
Grossman joins former ABC News President David Westin who told Huffington Post this week that "CBS made some big mistakes" and that the network should have acknowledged in their report that Davies had given a contradictory account to his employer.
A third former top network news executive, who requested anonymity, also weighed in, telling Media Matters, "The entire episode is worthy of more scrutiny and their apology was too thin. We expect better from a place like 60 Minutes."
A new study found that over the last 60 years the intermediate depths of the Pacific Ocean have warmed 15 times faster than in the past 10,000 years, providing more evidence that the "slowdown" in atmospheric temperature warming over the last 15 years may simply be due to the oceans storing more heat. However, this study was neglected by the same TV outlets who hyped the "slowdown" or "pause," sometimes without including this crucial context.
The study, published in Science on November 1, shows the enormous potential for oceans to act a "storehouse for heat and energy," providing support for the notion that a recent speed bump in atmospheric temperature rise in the past 15 years can be explained by excess heat from global warming being absorbed by the oceans. Study coauthor and Columbia University climate scientist Braddock Linsley explained, "We're experimenting by putting all this heat in the ocean without quite knowing how it's going to come back out and affect climate."
The recent findings were not covered by top U.S. TV outlets,* even though many of those same outlets recently focused on the "slowdown." A Media Matters study found that forty-one percent of media coverage of the the United Nations' International Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) major report mentioned the "slowdown." A CBS segment on the report, for example, focused on the speed bump, calling it an "inconvenient truth" that "the global atmosphere hasn't been warming lately," and turning to a "skepti[c]" without a climate science background to cast doubt on climate change.
Focus on the warming "pause" has received criticism as it's misleading to use a short-term time period to draw conclusions. The IPCC explained, "natural variability and short term factors" causes uncertainty, and the short time period is "very sensitive to the beginning and end dates and do not in general reflect long-term climate trends." For example, many use the start date of 1998, but this year had an abnormally strong El Nino, temporarily amplifying atmospheric temperatures. As Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at NASA told Mother Jones, "If you shift just 2 years earlier, so use 1996-2010 instead of 1998-2012, the trend is 0.14 C per decade, so slightly greater than the long-term trend."