Broadcast and cable TV news shows mentioned climate change in just 17% of extreme weather segments in mid-June
News coverage also largely failed to mention the need to rapidly reduce carbon emissions to ensure these climate-fueled events don’t worsen
A weeklong period in mid-June saw various overlapping and concurrent extreme weather events affect the U.S. Cable news networks CNN and MSNBC mentioned climate change in a combined 21% of segments on these events. Corporate broadcast news outlets ABC, CBS, and NBC, meanwhile, mentioned climate change in just 9% of their combined segments.
Record rainfall and rapid snowmelt led to historic flooding in the Yellowstone River, which in turn forced thousands of visitors to evacuate from Yellowstone National Park. The United States Geological Survey called it a “1 in 500-year” event. A heat dome – the one that just smashed heat records in several major Western U.S. cities – moved eastward across the U.S. , affecting more than 95 million people. St. Louis, Missouri, had its warmest overnight low temperature for June during that period, while Milwaukee, Wisconsin, “experienced its highest heat index in June since 1948.” In addition, a megadrought, perhaps the worst in 1,200 years, is affecting drinking water in much of the western U.S. and fast-burning wildfires have forced evacuations in Arizona and California.
It’s not just the U.S. that is seeing punishing extreme weather — a heat wave settled over much of Western Europe, where in parts of Spain and France, “temperatures are more than 10 degrees higher … than the average for this time of year.” Historic rain and flooding have also displaced millions of people in parts of Bangladesh and India, as well.
A review of coverage of these concurrent extreme weather events from June 14 through June 21 by Media Matters found:
- Corporate broadcast TV outlets — ABC, CBS, and NBC — aired a combined 67 extreme weather segments. Only 6 (9%) of them referenced climate change.
- Cable TV news networks CNN and MSNBC aired a combined 108 extreme weather segments, referencing climate change in 23 (21%) of them.
- Of the combined 29 segments across TV news networks examined (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and MSNBC) linking climate change to extreme events, only 1 referenced the need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels in order to mitigate the threat of extreme weather.
Climate scientists say the fingerprints of climate change are all over these events. A 2021 Yellowstone Climate Assessment predicted increasing spring rain and increased annual precipitation in the Yellowstone National Park as the planet warms. The historic flooding is in line with what climate scientists “expect based on long-term climate predictions.” Heat waves are being made longer and more severe with climate change, with one climate scientist noting that “essentially every severe to record-breaking heat event globally now has a detectable human fingerprint” due to climate change. Climate change has also amplified the western U.S. megadrought, with the author of one recent study on the megadrought saying that “it probably wouldn’t even be a continuous drought” without the influence of climate change. Climate change has led to wildfires starting earlier and earlier in the western U.S., with wildfire “seasons” now becoming “years.” Finally, climate experts say that the Southeast Asia monsoon is “becoming more variable, meaning that much of the rain that would typically fall in a season is arriving in a shorter period.”
Year after year, millions of people around the globe are inundated with worsening extreme weather. Yet TV news shows are still failing to consistently connect extreme weather events to climate change.
Broadcast TV news shows on ABC, NBC, and CBS ran a combined 67 extreme weather segments from June 14 to June 21. Just 6 of them (9%) of them mentioned climate change
CBS aired the most climate change segments — 3 of the network’s 12 extreme weather segments during the period reviewed made the link between these events and our warming climate. All of CBS’ mentions came in segments on the Yellowstone flooding. These mentions came on the June 15 edition of CBS Evening News; the June 16 edition of CBS Mornings; and the June 18 edition of CBS Weekend News, where reporter Jonathan Vigliotti noted, “Scientists say climate change is fueling disasters like this one and raising the risk and cost of living in places once considered out of harm's way. FEMA, which is on the ground to assist, says a single inch of floodwater can cause up to $25,000 in damage.”
Just 2 of NBC’s 23 extreme weather segments mentioned climate change — both about extreme heat. Both were on the network's morning news program Today: The first on the June 16 edition, while the other came in a weather report about extreme heat on the June 17 edition. On the latter edition, NBC weather anchor Al Roker noted that “in today’s climate … because of the warming planet, since the 1950s, 74% of the United States are having longer heat waves today than they did 50 years ago. … As we warm up, we’re going to see more and more of this happening.”
ABC aired 29 segments on extreme weather during this time period. Just 1 mentioned climate change, with meteorologist Ginger Zee stating that “overnight temperatures being higher is a big signal in human-induced climate change” in a weather report on extreme heat during the June 21 edition of Good Morning America.
These numbers linking climate change to worsening extreme weather are quite poor for the corporate broadcast TV networks when compared to their extreme weather reporting last summer. In a study conducted in June 2021 on both extreme heat and the U.S. drought ravaging the western U.S., we found that news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC mentioned climate change in 12 of 49 segments (24%). Another study conducted in August 2021 found that these three networks mentioned climate change in 10 of 34 segments (29%) on western U.S. wildfires.
Corporate broadcast networks are backsliding in connecting extreme weather to climate change at a time when the science is becoming more and more clear that climate change is worsening certain types of these events.
Of the corporate broadcast TV shows’ 67 extreme weather segments during this summer’s study time frame, 36 were weather reports on extreme weather and 31 were news segments. The vast majority of extreme weather segments were about extreme heat (43). There were 16 segments on the Yellowstone floods, 2 on general extreme weather, and 1 on western wildfires. Other segments focused on combinations of extreme heat, wildfires, and Yellowstone flooding.
Cable TV networks CNN and MSNBC ran a combined 108 segments on extreme weather events, and 23 of them (21%) mentioned climate change
CNN aired the vast majority of both extreme weather reporting and links to climate change between cable networks CNN and MSNBC, connecting climate in 19 (22%) of the 88 extreme weather segments from June 14 through June 21. Of these mentions, 15 came in news segments on extreme weather, while 4 mentions came in weather reports.
The context of CNN’s climate mentions varied. 7 of their climate mentions came in reporting on general extreme weather, including from the June 15 edition of New Day, with co-anchor Brianna Keilar opening the 7 a.m. hour of the show by stating, “If you don't believe in the climate emergency facing our nation, just open your window or walk outside today. There will be evidence on display in every corner of America. No matter where you live, count on extreme weather, heat warnings, or severe flooding.”
4 mentions came in the context of discussing the extreme heat in the U.S. Notably, during the 3 p.m. hour of CNN Newsroom on June 19, meteorologist Gene Norman said of some Midwest heat wave temperatures: “They normally hit the century mark usually in mid-July. So this is way early, another sign of the fingerprints of climate change.” 4 mentions also came in the context of the Yellowstone flooding. CNN’s Nick Watt provided a good explanation of this on the June 15 edition of The Lead with Jake Tapper, noting, “This is climate change, an unusually late heavy snowfall, then unusually high temperatures melting that snow. Plus a lot of rain. … As much as three months worth of water barreled down this valley in three days, breaking record-high river levels set over a hundred years ago, overwhelming infrastructure built for what was normal last century, not for the extreme and unpredictable that is becoming normal in this.”
2 mentions came in the context of the U.S. drought, and 1 each in segments on flooding in Bangladesh and on a combination of the Yellowstone floods and extreme heat.
MSNBC, meanwhile, aired only 16 segments and 4 weather reports on the various extreme weather during this period. Just 4 of them (20%) mentioned climate change. 2 came in similar segments in the context of reporting on how current and future extreme heat this summer will stress the country’s power grid. On the June 19 edition of The Katie Phang Show, the COO of the Potomac Electric Power Co. stated that “climate change is real. We’re feeling it. And we’re seeing the impacts of severe weather swings.”
2 other climate mentions came in the context of reporting on general extreme weather. In a segment on extreme weather on the June 16 edition of Chris Jansing Reports, climate scientist Zeke Hausfather stated, “So you can think of climate sort of like, you know, steroids for weather. Because it's really climate change that’s putting the weather on steroids, that’s making these sort of extreme events, and extreme heat events specifically, much more likely.”
In addition to CNN and MSNBC, Media Matters also reviewed extreme weather reporting on Fox News Channel. As Fox has a long and sordid history of climate denial, we decided not to include details of the network's reporting in this study. Fox aired 29 segments on extreme weather during this time frame, and none of them mentioned climate change. The majority of this reporting was about extreme heat and Yellowstone flooding.
CNN and MSNBC haven’t really moved the needle on linking climate change to worsening extreme weather when compared to their coverage last summer. While discussing the unprecedented Pacific Northwest heat wave over a two-day period in June 2021, CNN and MSNBC mentioned climate change in a combined 2 of 11 segments (18% — both climate mentions came on CNN). However, in the aforementioned August 2021 wildfire study, these networks aired a combined 75 segments, with 30 of them mentioning climate change (40%).
Of CNN’s and MSNBC’s extreme weather reporting during this summer’s study time frame, 75 were news segments and 33 were weather reports. The vast majority of extreme weather segments aired during this time frame were solely focused on either U.S. heat (35) or Yellowstone flooding (33).
Very rarely in climate segments do these networks also stress the need to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels
While correctly mentioning climate change in reporting on worsening extreme weather events is important (and should be the absolute bare minimum), it’s also necessary to point out that these events will get worse in the future unless there is a rapid decrease in carbon emissions. This is what climate scientists have been pointing out for years now, most recently in the April Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, whose press release noted, “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5°C is beyond reach.”
While corporate broadcast and cable news reporting on extreme weather events does, to varying degrees, mention climate change, rarely do these outlets also point out that in order to mitigate these events we need to transition away from fossil fuels.
Media Matters found that only 1 of the combined 29 segments across programming on corporate broadcast news — ABC, CBS, and NBC, and cable news networks CNN and MSNBC — that connected extreme weather to our warming climate also included any reference to the need for climate action.
That one mention — a decent example of the sort of transition language needed — came during the 1 p.m. hour of June 17 edition of CNN Newsroom, with anchor Ana Cabrera stating the following:
ANA CABREARA (ANCHOR): Today, President Biden is sending a clear message to other nations on fighting climate change: Hurry up. He is urging them to accelerate plans to cut methane emissions and get more zero-emission vehicles on the road. It's not hard to see why this matters – just look at what's happening across the U.S. this week. The U.S. Geological Survey says the devastating flooding that swept away this house along the Yellowstone River was greater than a one in 500-year event. Right now, nearly 40 million people are under heat alerts from the Southeast to the central Plains. Some areas are feeling triple-digit heat. And in the Southwest, extreme drought is creating ideal conditions for wildfires and drying up the country's largest reservoirs.
This is the sort of accurate context that reporting on extreme weather events should include. We know that climate change is making events like extreme heat, flooding, and drought more severe. We also know that climate solutions reporting helps TV viewers become more engaged in climate issues and more willing to act. Going forward, Media Matters will be both tracking media outlets for inclusion of this transition language, and pressing them to include it as climate-fueled extreme weather across the globe gets worse.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight, CBS’ Mornings and Evening News, NBC’s Today and Nightly News as well as all original programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC for any of the terms “heat advisory,” or “heat index,” or “extreme heat,” or “extreme temperature,” or “extreme weather,” or “tornado,” or “hurricane,” or “yellowstone,” or “drought,” or “megadrought,” or “scorching temperature,” or “dry spell,” or “acre burn,” or “blaze” or “deadly heat” and any variations of the terms “heatwave,” or “wildfire,” or “flood,” or “hurricane” from June 14, 2022, through June 21, 2022.
We counted segments, which we defined as instances when extreme weather was the stated topic of discussion or when we found “significant discussion” of extreme weather. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed extreme weather with one another. We also included weather reports, which we defined as instances when extreme weather was the stated topic of discussion by a meteorologist in front of a green screen.
We did not include passing mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker mentioned an extreme weather event, or teasers, which we defined as instances when the host or anchor promoted a segment about extreme weather coming up later in the broadcast.
We then reviewed each segment or weather report for mentions of the terms “climate” or “global warming.” Of the segments that mentioned “climate” or “global warming,” we further reviewed for whether these segments referenced any sort of climate action to address extreme weather including the need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and transition to a clean energy economy.