Cable news programs lag behind their broadcast news counterparts in linking climate change to the Pacific Northwest heat wave
A review of weekend coverage found that ABC did a good job of mentioning climate change, while neither NBC nor MSNBC mentioned it at all
A Media Matters analysis found that from June 26 through 27 -- during the first 48-hour period of an intense and deadly heat wave which is scorching the Pacific Northwest, shattering temperature records, and creating dangerous conditions for a region unaccustomed to and unprepared for excessive heat -- morning and evening news shows on broadcast TV networks as well as all original programming on the major cable news networks aired 35 combined segments on the Pacific Northwest heat wave. Only eight of them, or 23%, mentioned climate.
The unprecedented event immediately follows a brutal heat wave that baked the West earlier this month. Broadcast coverage of the western heat event showed a major improvement in how these programs cover extreme weather, mentioning climate change in 27% of segments on the western heat wave. This latest heat wave in the Pacific Northwest shows that broadcast TV networks’ coverage basically stayed the same, mentioning climate change in five of the 17 overall segments (29%).
Scientists have noted that extreme heat events are “some of the clearest impacts of climate change on extreme weather” and the most deadly. Scientists have warned that these events will become increasingly intense, longer lasting, and more frequent without immediate climate action. And with this specific Pacific Northwest heat wave, it is turning out to be one of the worst “ever observed anywhere in North America.”
Broadcast TV news programs mentioned climate change in Pacific Northwest heat wave reporting in 29% of segments
ABC led the way in both reporting on the Pacific Northwest heat wave and linking it to climate change -- the network featured four climate mentions across eight overall segments. All four climate mentions occurred in segments featuring ABC meteorologist Rob Marciano.
An excellent example comes from the June 27 edition of Good Morning America. Marciano spoke with Multnomah County, Oregon, Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines, who noted that climate change is a public health issue. Later in the edition, Marciano noted that “the intensity and duration of this heat wave shows a strong link to climate change.”
Climate change was also mentioned during the June 26 editions of both Good Morning America and World News Tonight, as well as the June 27 edition of World News Tonight.
CBS mentioned climate change in one of its three segments on the Pacific Northwest heat wave. During the June 26 edition of CBS This Morning, CBS meteorologist and climate specialist Jeff Berardelli noted that the heat wave is “a 1-in-1,000 year event,” and called the record-shattering temperatures “not coincidence -- it's climate change.”
NBC news shows aired four segments on the Pacific Northwest heat wave, and none of them mentioned climate change. Additionally, PBS NewsHour Weekend aired two segments on the heat wave, and neither of them mentioned climate change.
ABC and CBS continue their streak of linking climate change to record-breaking and deadly heat waves. From June 13 to 20, ABC and CBS mentioned climate change five and four times, respectively, in segments on the general western heat wave and drought. Meanwhile, NBC failed to improve upon its performance from June 13 to 20, when it mentioned climate change in three heat wave segments; ditto to PBS, which mentioned climate change in two of three western heat wave and drought segments on NewsHour during that time period.
Cable news programs mentioned climate change in only 17% of Pacific Northwest heat wave segments
Media Matters reviewed all original programming on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- 4 a.m. to midnight news shows -- on June 26 and 27. Only a combined three of 18 Pacific Northwest heat wave segments mentioned climate change.
CNN aired seven segments on the Pacific Northwest heat wave, and only two of them mentioned climate change. One came in an interview with former Vice President Al Gore during the June 26 edition of CNN Newsroom with Pamela Brown. Gore noted that “19 of the 20 hottest years ever measured have been in the last 20 years.” He also made a nod towards the Southwest U.S. megadrought, noting that “they are in a 20-year drought directly connected to the climate crisis. The water levels are at an all-time low.” The interview, which was over 11 minutes long, also touched upon long-term projections of climate change as well as climate solutions.
CNN’s other climate mention came during the June 27 afternoon edition of CNN Newsroom.
Fox News aired seven segments on the Pacific Northwest heat wave, and just one of them mentioned climate change. On the June 26 edition of Fox Report with Jon Scott, host Jon Scott interviewed Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management. Phelps stated, “We've been dealing a lot from the past 12 months from historic wildfires to ice storms just four months ago. And now, again, we're plunged into another climate-driven event with this extreme heat.”
MSNBC aired four segments on the Pacific Northwest heat wave throughout June 26-27. None of them mentioned climate change.
With the Pacific Northwest heat wave still ongoing, TV news programs on both broadcast and cable networks still have time to do a better job of connecting it to climate change.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming for ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight, CBS’ This Morning and Evening News, NBC’s Today and Nightly News, and PBS’ NewsHour Weekend as well as all original programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC for any of the terms “heat,” “heatwave,” “heat wave,” “temperature,” or “hot” within close proximity of any of the terms “Pacific,” “Northwest,” “Oregon,” “Washington,” “Portland,” or “Seattle” from June 26 through June 27, 2021.
We included segments, which we defined as instances when the heat wave was the stated topic of discussion or when we found “significant discussion” of the heat wave. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multi-topic segment discussed the heat wave with one another. We did not include passing mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker mentioned the heat wave without another speaker engaging with the comment, or teasers, which we defined as instances when the host or anchor promoted a segment about the heat wave coming up later in the broadcast.
We then reviewed each segment for any mention of climate change or global warming.