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Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

Over a decade of corporate broadcast TV news climate change coverage

  • Update (4/7/22): This piece has been updated with additional analysis of how corporate broadcast news meteorologists covered climate change in 2021.

    In 2012, when Media Matters published its first study of climate coverage by corporate broadcast TV news in the previous year, networks had regularly downplayed the threat of climate change and dedicated only 47 minutes to the crisis across nightly news and Sunday political shows. Our latest study of 2021’s climate coverage documented over 8 hours across this same programming and a combined total of 22 hours including morning news shows – which first became part of the annual study in 2020, due to the increasing influence of morning programming meteorologists on climate coverage. But while 2011 and 2021 show the valley and peak of broadcast TV news climate coverage, the years in between do not show a steady climb in reporting.

  • Corporate broadcast news’ reporting on climate change has waxed and waned over the past 11 years, illustrating the challenge of keeping the media's attention to the crisis elevated – and consistent.

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    Citation Andrea Austria and Molly Butler / Media Matters

  • But the past 11 years have brought some clear gains and shed light on how broadcast TV news can improve coverage.

    The harmful practice of giving climate deniers a platform to cast doubt about the existence of climate change or downplay the severity of the crisis is seemingly gone from broadcast TV news. However, the predominance of both white and male guests continues to mark a dispiriting trend in climate coverage, neglecting the disproportionate impacts that climate change has on both women and people of color. The toll of historic extreme weather events and unprecedented “code red” warnings from the scientific community have finally started to erode broadcast TV news’ reticence to characterize disasters like 2021’s Hurricane Ida as proof that climate change is happening here and now – rather than portraying the crisis as a far-off calamity. Though coverage of these events still fails to point to the need to take climate action and hold accountable those obstructing it.

  • In short, Media Matters has documented how far broadcast TV news climate reporting has come and identified where it still needs to go.

  • How broadcast TV networks covered climate change from 2011 to 2021

  • The volume of broadcast TV news reporting on climate change has waxed and waned over the past 11 years, illustrating the challenge of keeping the media's attention to the crisis elevated and consistent.

  • Explore how broadcast TV news covered climate coverage in:

  • Deep dive into Media Matters broadcast climate studies

  • How broadcast TV networks covered climate change in 2021

    2021 was a stand-out year for climate coverage on corporate broadcast TV networks. Media Matters found that approximately 1,316 minutes -- nearly 22 hours -- were spent discussing climate change on morning, evening, and Sunday morning news shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox Broadcasting Co. – more than a threefold increase from 2020.

    The increase in coverage was largely driven by various Biden administration climate initiatives; another year of deadly climate-fueled extreme weather events across the globe; and the pivotal 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), which was held in Glasgow, Scotland, over a two-week period in November.

    However, some problematic trends continued to materialize in corporate broadcast news coverage of climate change, including an overwhelming proportion of white men featured as guests in climate coverage (for at least the fifth year in a row), undercutting people of color and the communities most impacted by the crisis. And while broadcast networks did a decent job of covering key climate moments and extreme weather events in 2021 overall, their coverage throughout the year was uneven: 42% of all climate segments came during the three-month period of September, October, and November.

    • Learn more about how each individual network news program covered climate change in 2021.
    • Learn more about how corporate broadcast TV news can improve climate coverage in 2022.
    • Learn more about how corporate broadcast news meteorologists covered climate change in 2021.
  • How broadcast TV networks covered climate change in 2020

    Corporate broadcast TV news shows covered climate change for just 112 minutes in 2020, which was the lowest amount of coverage since 2016. While the emergence of COVID-19 predictably took up much of the air waves in 2020, there were numerous opportunities to incorporate climate reporting into wall-to-wall coverage of the pandemic. Despite this, the connections between climate and the coronavirus were mentioned only three times on nightly news shows.

    • Learn more about how broadcast TV news covered climate solutions in 2020.
  • How broadcast TV networks covered climate change in 2019

    Corporate broadcast TV news shows covered climate change for 238 minutes in 2019 – a sizable increase from 2018, but still below a then-record amount of coverage in 2017. Much of 2019’s climate coverage was driven by CBS, which aired more minutes and segments about climate change than ABC and NBC combined. Youth climate activism, new federal climate legislation, and the prominence of climate as a top issue during the Democratic presidential primaries were major drivers of overall climate coverage.

    • Learn more about how broadcast TV news covered climate solutions in 2019.
    • Learn more about how Sunday morning political shows covered climate change in 2019.
    • Dive deep into the year’s climate coverage from PBS NewsHour, which sets the gold standard for broadcast climate coverage.
  • How broadcast TV networks covered climate change in 2018

    Corporate broadcast TV news shows covered climate change for just 142 minutes in 2018, with nearly three-quarters of coverage airing in the last three months of the year. In fact, 46 minutes of coverage came from a single episode of NBC's Meet the Press on December 30 that was dedicated to discussion of climate change. Major climate science reports released by the United Nations and the U.S. government were key drivers of coverage; notably, none of the broadcast TV networks' news reports on Hurricanes Florence or Michael mentioned climate change.

    • Learn more about how Sunday morning political shows covered climate change in 2018.
  • How broadcast TV networks covered climate change in 2017

    Corporate broadcast TV news shows covered climate change for 260 minutes in 2017. However, 79% of this coverage (205 minutes) was focused on former President Donald Trump and his administration, particularly his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. Only four segments discussed climate change in the context of disasters that happened in the U.S. in 2017.

    • Learn more about how Sunday morning political shows covered climate change in 2017.
  • How broadcast networks covered climate change in 2016

    Corporate broadcast TV news shows covered climate change for just 50 minutes in 2016. A disproportionate amount of this coverage (32 of 87 total segments) aired after the U.S. presidential election on November 8. Networks failed to discuss climate-related ramifications of a Clinton or Trump presidency until after the election. Additionally, climate change was mentioned in only five extreme weather segments.

  • How broadcast networks covered climate change in 2015

    Corporate broadcast TV news shows covered climate change for 146 minutes in 2015. The Paris Climate Summit and Pope Francis' calls for climate action were the most-discussed climate stories, while the broadcast networks rarely addressed climate change’s impacts on national security, the economy, or public health. Unfortunately, however, most still found time to air climate science denial.

  • How broadcast networks covered climate change in 2014

    Corporate broadcast TV news shows covered climate change for 154 minutes in 2014. For the first time since this study began, Sunday morning shows aired more minutes of climate coverage (81 minutes) than nightly news shows (73 minutes). Political issues drove a majority (52%) of Sunday show climate coverage, while new scientific findings made up the majority (49%) of nightly news shows’ climate coverage.

  • How broadcast news covered climate change from 2009-2013

    Corporate broadcast TV news shows covered climate change for 129 minutes in 2013. Politics dominated 88% of Sunday show coverage, while climate change’s impacts on extreme weather and wildlife made up 58% of nightly news coverage. A climate scientist also appeared on a Sunday morning show for the first time in five years.

  • Warmest year on record received cool climate coverage

    Corporate broadcast TV news shows covered climate change for just 67 minutes in 2012, even though 2012 was the warmest year on record at the time. Notably, 89% of Sunday show coverage was driven by politics, while 69% of nightly news show coverage was driven by U.S. extreme weather events. Additionally, 60% of nightly news coverage alluded to the scientific consensus, while this happened in only 11% of Sunday show coverage.

  • Climate coverage plummets on broadcast networks

    Corporate broadcast TV news shows covered climate change for just 47 minutes in 2011. In fact (and in a sign of things to come), networks spent more than twice as much time discussing Donald Trump as climate change. Much of Fox News Sunday’s coverage promoted the “Climategate” controversy and downplayed the threat of climate change.