Media Matters’ Evlondo Cooper joins KPFA’s A Rude Awakening to discuss inconsistent and inequitable climate coverage on national TV news

Cooper: “You have this kind of one-two punch of neglect where you're neglecting the climate story and, even within that coverage about an extreme weather event, you're neglecting the people who are most harmed.”

Full Episode here.

A Rude Awakening 6-16-23

A Rude Awakening 6-16-23
Audio file

Citation From the June 16, 2023, episode of KPFA's "A Rude Awakening"

SABRINA JACOBS (HOST, A RUDE AWAKENING) : In your latest piece that came out on the 14th, “How National TV news’ extreme weather coverage overlooks the most vulnerable,” I just wanna read a quote from that from you.

“By highlighting how individuals and communities are uniting to combat climate change, national TV news has the potential to inspire viewers, making them more likely to act in their own communities. The stories of resilience, adaptation, and mitigation from often overlooked communities can demonstrate that meaningful action on climate change is not only necessary but also possible.”

And that is a beautiful thing to behold when it happens, but Evlondo, that's a quote, direct quote from your article that came out on the 14th. Talk to us about it.

EVLONDO COOPER (SENIOR RESEARCHER, MEDIA MATTERS): Yeah, the interesting thing was that both studies highlighted an unfortunate trend — I know we're talking about the other one later, but just to kind of frame the discussion, one study looked at the coverage and found that coverage of climate change is inconsistent, considering that wildfires, and the subsequent smoke, are a known consequence of climate change, that climate change, global warming, is making wildfires more intense. And then when you dig down a little bit into that, specifically, what’s equally troubling is that the coverage also often neglects to highlight how climate impacts low-income communities and communities of color.

So you have this kind of one-two punch of neglect where you're neglecting the climate story and, even within that coverage about an extreme weather event, you're neglecting the people who are most harmed by these extreme weather impacts.

JACOBS: Most definitely. “Broadcast and cable news can limit public awareness, and thus policy pressure and necessary resource allocation.” I think that was important. That is important to point out from your article too, because it's like, OK, if people don't know, then you know, if people don't know, then the politicians don't know. The politicians don't know, it's just gonna go, you know, unseen, unheard. Unseen, unheard. And then that's the heartbreaking part.

The economic disparity, rich versus poor, stark differences “demonstrates the need for equitable disaster management strategies that prioritize assistance and resources for those most at risk,” etc. So talk to us about that. If these policymakers knew, if these lawmakers knew, or it was brought to their attention, you know, regardless of the media, would the necessary pressure be there? I don't think so. Go ahead and talk to us about that.

COOPER: Yeah. I mean, that's the thing. You know, we do this work, we look at these studies, we look at this coverage, and the thing that I'm trying to — I mean, a lot of people know, but just to bring to public awareness, is that these coverage choices have material consequences. Right? So part of what we looked at was, and it's come out of conversations I've had with you and other journalists, that a lot of the coverage, when it's impacting media hubs and power centers, it's a different tenor of coverage. It's more urgent, right?

When these impacts are happening outside of these centers, you know, it's kind of hit or miss still. Sometimes you'll get good coverage, but a lot of times you won't get good coverage. And throughout the coverage of extreme weather events, again, the people that are left out of the coverage and then left out of the help that they need to recover, adapt, evacuate, are low-income and communities of color, vulnerable people.

So I think that it's important to connect this coverage to people who watch the news, whether it's politicians, policymakers, you know, they get their news from the same places that a lot of us do. And so the moral awareness they have of these disparate conditions, of these disparate resources, we hope to drive support for more equitable climate policies.

In addition, it's important for just everyday viewers and voters to see this, so that they're aware of what's going on. A key thing that we notice is in hurricane coverage, for instance, a lot of coverage is, “Oh, these people didn't leave. They didn't leave.” You know, “Why didn't they evacuate?” And what you very rarely hear about is that a lot of people just don't have the means to evacuate. And those that do have the means to evacuate, if their home is destroyed, they don't have the means to rebuild. You know?

And so a lot of times if you're just watching hurricane coverage, and you’re in another part of the country, you don't understand the material realities that a lot of people are facing. And you think, oh, those silly people, they're just gonna stay and ride out the storm without any kind of awareness of what's really going on the ground. And I think that's the importance of the news media is to highlight those disparities and create kind of empathy and a drive to help those people and public policies that are designed to do so.

To see Media Matters’ full analysis of how national TV news networks covered the Canadian wildfire smoke, click here and here.