Bernie Sanders is right: TV networks need to do a much better job of covering climate change
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Bernie Sanders thinks there's a problem with TV news coverage of climate change. “This is an issue of huge consequence and you would think that ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox would be talking about this every day, having the debate, ‘What do we do? Where do we go?’” he recently told HuffPost. “Clearly you aren’t seeing that debate.”
Bernie Sanders is right.
The Vermont senator and former presidential candidate is expected to highlight the media's shortcomings during a national town hall on climate change solutions that will be live-streamed on December 3 at 7 p.m. ET. As HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman explained in an article about the town hall, Sanders may "challenge TV networks to cover a rapidly worsening crisis they’ve long ignored."
Ignore it they have. Media Matters closely tracks TV coverage of climate change and consistently finds it lacking, both in quantity and in quality. Check out some of our findings from this year:
- CNN, NBC, and of course Fox all featured climate deniers in their coverage of the recent National Climate Assessment report.
- ABC, CBS, and NBC mentioned climate change in less than 4 percent of their coverage of the recent California wildfires, and in only 2 percent of their coverage of wildfires over the summer.
- ABC, CBS, and NBC aired 127 segments on a major heat wave that hit much of the U.S. this summer, and only one of those segments noted that climate change is a driver of extreme heat.
- Many major TV networks did a worse job of incorporating climate change into their hurricane coverage this year than they did last year. CBS, CNN, and MSNBC mentioned climate change less often during their coverage of Hurricane Florence in 2018 than they did during their coverage of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. ABC did not mention climate change at all during its Florence coverage. This despite the fact that scientists released a groundbreaking study about climate change's impact on Florence before the hurricane even made landfall; it estimated that the storm's rainfall in the hardest-hit areas would be boosted more than 50 percent by climate change.
- Seventy-nine percent of the time that corporate broadcast networks devoted to climate change in 2017 focused on President Donald Trump. The networks gave vastly less coverage to the many ways that climate change affects people's lives through its impacts on things like extreme weather, public health, and national security.
- ABC, CBS, and NBC aired only four total segments that discussed climate change in the context of extreme weather disasters that happened last year, including just two that mentioned climate change in the context of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, or Maria.
- Election debates, which are usually moderated by journalists, too often neglect to address climate change. This year, moderators or panelists asked a question about climate change at only 29 percent of key debates in competitive Senate and gubernatorial races.
Sanders is a long-time climate media activist
In 2014, Sanders joined eight other senators in sending a letter to the heads of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox that called for more attention to climate change:
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.”
The letter cited a Media Matters study that found the Sunday morning shows devoted a total of just 27 minutes to climate change coverage in 2013. Sanders explained why increasing the coverage is critical: “Sunday news shows are obviously important because they talk to millions of people, but they go beyond that by helping to define what the establishment considers to be important and what is often discussed during the rest of the week.”
When he was running for president in 2016, Sanders made a number of appearances on Sunday shows, and he brought up the topic of climate change much more often than the shows' hosts did.
Sanders' climate town hall will be live-streamed on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and it's being co-presented by a number of independent, progressive media outlets including The Young Turks, The Intercept, and The Nation. Will any major TV networks cover it?