Study: Latest IPCC report calling for urgent action on climate change garners just 14 minutes of corporate broadcast and cable TV news coverage
CNN’s Bill Weir accounted for the majority of coverage
On March 20, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report on climate change which warns that “there is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.”
The report, which synthesizes years of scientific research and studies on climate change, found that the world is likely to surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming by the early 2030s unless there is a rapid and sustained curtailment of global carbon emissions. The report details how extreme weather has already caused devastation to large swaths of the globe, with over 3 billion people living in areas “highly vulnerable” to climate breakdown.
Given the scale and threat of the climate crisis that is laid bare in stark terms, one would expect to see substantial media coverage that dissects this report and the steps needed to address the crisis. Unfortunately, just like with another recent major climate story about the Willow Project, this has not been the case. A Media Matters analysis from 9 a.m. ET on March 20 to 9 a.m. ET on March 21 found that:
- Major cable TV networks devoted just 12 minutes to discussing the report, with the vast majority of coverage coming on CNN. Fox News didn’t mention the report at all.
- Morning and evening news shows on corporate broadcast TV networks ABC, CBS, and NBC devoted just 2 1/2 minutes to discussing the report. CBS didn’t mention the report at all.
- PBS, meanwhile, did a good job of covering the report. It was the lead story on the March 20 edition of NewsHour, which was the only TV program to interview a climate scientist about the report.
Cable news devoted just 12 minutes to covering the report in a 24-hour period
CNN spent almost 10 minutes covering the report across 3 segments and 2 headline reports. The 3 segments — on the March 20 editions of CNN Newsroom and The Lead With Jake Tapper and the March 21 edition of CNN This Morning — featured the network’s chief climate correspondent Bill Weir discussing the importance of the report and the necessary steps that are needed to address the climate crisis. On CNN Newsroom, Weir stated about global temperatures that “we’ve pretty much run out of time in order to keep it at 1.5” and that “it feels like we're ignoring what is being told to us by our scientists.” On CNN This Morning, Weir spent nearly 4 minutes discussing the report and its implications, noting, “We are committing suicide by fossil fuels and the amount of effort and speed it will take to head off the worst disasters is stunning.” He did note that focusing on renewable energy, stopping deforestation, and building more energy-efficient buildings are three effective tools in helping to combat the climate crisis.
In addition to these 3 segments, CNN anchors covered the IPCC report briefly on the March 20 edition of Inside Politics and the March 21 edition of CNN Newsroom Live.
MSNBC spent just 2 minutes discussing the report during 1 segment on the March 20 edition of Chris Jansing Reports. This segment featured host Chris Jansing speaking with NBC science reporter Denise Chow. Fox News, meanwhile, ignored the report.
This 12 combined minutes of coverage across cable news networks is barely an improvement from how they covered previous IPCC reports in 2022. CNN was the only network to cover an IPCC report on climate mitigation in April 2022, spending roughly 4 minutes doing so. CNN and MSNBC spent 8 combined minutes covering a February 2022 IPCC report that focused on climate impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability.
Corporate broadcast TV news spent just under 2 1/2 minutes discussing the report
On March 20, anchors David Muir on ABC’s World News Tonight and Lester Holt on NBC Nightly News devoted roughly 40 and 30 seconds respectively to covering the IPCC report.
To make matters worse, CBS Evening News didn’t mention the report at all.
On the March 21 edition of ABC’s Good Morning America, Ginger Zee, meteorologist and managing editor of the network’s Climate Unit, did an excellent job of explaining warming impacts at various temperature thresholds. She then stated that the IPCC is “urging nations around the world to rapidly stop new oil and gas production, [and] stop expanding fossil fuels across the board.”
Neither CBS Mornings nor NBC’s Today mentioned the IPCC report on March 21.
These coverage numbers are actually worse when compared to coverage of last year’s IPCC reports. Morning and nightly news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC covered the April 2022 report for a combined 4 minutes. They spent roughly 4 1/2 combined minutes discussing the February 2022 report.
PBS outperformed its corporate broadcast counterparts in terms of the quantity and quality of its IPCC report coverage
The IPCC report was the lead story on the March 20 edition of PBS NewsHour. This coverage included a nearly 7-minute interview with climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe, who helped break down the report in simple terms and offer a message of hope for humanity. On climate action, she stated, “If we have the will to do so, we can accomplish it.” She then said “many of those solutions are already here today,” including clean energy, energy efficiency, and building resilience.
NewsHour also outperformed its evening news counterparts in covering previous IPCC reports. The program covered the April 2022 report for 7 1/2 minutes and the February 2022 report for 4 minutes. NewsHour has traditionally outperformed its broadcast counterparts in climate change coverage.
Because NewsHour is publicly funded, it is not included in the full data set in this analysis.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on cable news networks CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News Channel as well as all original episodes of ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight, CBS’ Mornings and Evening News, NBC’s Today and Nightly News, and PBS’ NewsHour for either of the terms “climate” or “warming” within close proximity of any of the terms “report,” “study,” “IPCC,” “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” “United Nations,” or “U.N.” or any variations of the term “science” from 9 a.m. ET March 20, 2023, when the IPCC released the report, through 9 a.m. ET March 21, 2023.
We timed segments, which we defined as instances when the IPCC report was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of the IPCC report. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed the IPCC report with one another. We also included headline reports, which we defined as instances when an anchor, host, or correspondent read a short news report about the IPCC report in rapid succession with several unrelated stories.
We did not include passing mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker discussed the IPCC report without another speaker engaging with the comment, or teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about the IPCC report scheduled to air later in the broadcast.
We rounded all times to the nearest minute.