A Media Matters analysis found that California's largest-circulating newspapers are increasingly mentioning how climate change is worsening the state's wildfires. California has faced an extremely early and severe fire season in 2014, in line with climate research showing that over the last four decades, fires have grown millions of acres larger and the fire season has extended by about three months on average.
As some of the most destructive wildfires in history ravage the Southwest, major newspapers in the area have documented the way climate change makes blazes more likely less than half as often as national newspapers.
Recent fires have taken a massive toll as the hottest, driest parts of the U.S. become even hotter and drier. In Arizona, 19 firefighters perished in the worst American wildfire disaster in decades, a quick-moving inferno that destroyed a small town. Months ago, fire season began early in California, and it has since been called the state's worst ever. Colorado recently experienced the most destructive wildfire in its history, bringing the total area set aflame this season within the state to about 180 square miles, larger than the area of Barbados. New Mexico and Utah have lately faced "unprecedented" and "potentially explosive" fires, respectively.
Fires like these must be sparked (by anything from lightning to a stray rifle shot), but research indicates that climate change, and the extreme heat and drought conditions it propagates in the Southwest, boosts the chances that they will happen and cause significant damage. Indeed, seven out of nine fire scientists contacted by Media Matters as part of a 2012 study agreed that journalists should detail the role of climate change in worsening risk when they report on such fires.
The Sacramento Bee's public editor claimed that "there's a key bit of context missing" from a Media Matters item about a Bee article reporting on the controversial Republican-backed California ballot initiative that would award the state's electoral votes by congressional district. But the sentence that the public editor suggested was missing from the Media Matters item was in fact included -- in boldface for emphasis -- in the item.
In reporting on a Republican-backed California ballot initiative that would award the state's electoral votes by congressional district, The Sacramento Bee stated that "Republicans behind the initiative said it would force presidential candidates to visit California more often and give more voters a voice in the presidential outcome." But the Bee did not note that there are only three congressional districts in California that Sen. John Kerry or President Bush carried by 5 percentage points or less during the 2004 presidential election; thus, if the initiative passed, campaigns would presumably have little incentive to "visit California more often," as the initiative's backers reportedly claimed. Moreover, California voters would have less influence on the outcome of elections, because voters would likely deliver fewer than the current 55 electoral votes to the winner.
While reporting on California Secretary of State Debra Bowen's decision to decertify the state's electronic voting machines in light of a study that found the systems are vulnerable to security breaches, numerous media outlets attacked the study's "unrealistic" methodology or uncritically reported criticism of the study's premise, without noting the researchers' explanation for their methods.