TV networks did a poor job of covering climate and environmental issues on Earth Day compared to last year
While CNN aired just 1 segment on the topic, Fox News used the day to attack climate action and advocates
Though broadcast TV networks and cable news channels produced strong climate and environmental coverage on Earth Day in 2021, they were unable to keep the momentum in 2022 and their combined coverage fell by 48%.
Over the last year, the urgency needed to address climate change has only grown. A recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report stated that it’s “now or never” in terms of rapidly reducing carbon emissions to stave off the worst effects of climate change. Meanwhile, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent oil prices soaring and has led to increased global demand for fossil fuels.
Despite these new developments on the climate front, news shows on corporate broadcast TV networks ABC, CBS, and NBC and programming on cable news channels CNN and MSNBC aired a total of 37 climate and environmental segments -- across 139 minutes -- on April 22, which is a commemoration of the birth of the modern environmental movement. This is significantly worse than last year when news shows on these networks combined aired 64 segments across 268 minutes. What’s worse but not surprising, Fox News once again used Earth Day to attack climate policies and sow the seeds of doubt around the seriousness of the issues. The network aired 56 minutes of coverage across 18 segments.
Morning and nightly news shows on corporate broadcast TV networks aired 20 climate and environmental-related segments on Earth Day
News shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC aired a combined 20 climate and environmental segments this year, for a total of just 71 minutes. This marks a 13% decrease from 2021 when these news shows aired 82 minutes of coverage across 26 segments.
NBC was the best-performing corporate broadcast TV network this year in terms of Earth Day coverage. The network aired 9 segments across 35 minutes. Last year, it aired 10 segments across 29 minutes, making it the only TV network to air more minutes of Earth Day-related coverage this year than last year. This year, 8 of its 9 segments came on its morning show, Today, and 1 aired on Nightly News. In fact, a large portion of the half-hour between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. EST on Today was devoted to Earth Day coverage. Three segments came during the third hour of Today. But even though NBC devoted the most airtime to Earth Day coverage among its competitors, not all of the coverage was good — only two of its segments included direct references to climate change.
CBS aired 7 segments across 23 minutes, with 5 segments airing on CBS Mornings and 2 segments airing on CBS Evening News. Last year, the network aired 10 segments across 35 minutes, and much of the second hour of the morning show was devoted to climate and environmental programming. CBS Mornings this year did at least air 2 separate climate segments that lasted over 6 minutes. While the segments were interesting, they were not necessarily crucial climate stories: One discussed the climate impacts of wood pellet production, and the other dealt with how deep-sea animals can be used in the fight against climate change.
ABC aired 4 segments across 13 minutes this year, down from 6 segments across 18 minutes last year. Three segments came on Good Morning America, and 1 came on World News Tonight. The most notable segment included ABC chief meteorologist Ginger Zee discussing her recent electric vehicle road trip to Miami. She noted that overall, the trip cost less than a gas-powered car trip would have cost.
In addition to the corporate broadcast networks, we examined coverage of public broadcaster PBS' nightly news show PBS NewsHour. NewsHour aired just one climate segment on Earth Day this year: a 6-minute long interview with New York Times opinion writer Margaret Renkl about her writings on the environment. Last year, NewsHour aired 3 such segments across 18 minutes.
Earth Day segments on these networks were generally shallow
Only one segment, which aired during the 7 a.m. EST hour of CBS Mornings, discussed President Joe Biden’s climate policies and his upcoming climate-focused speech in Seattle. (Last year, Biden’s climate policies played a bigger role in these networks’ climate and environmental-related Earth Day coverage, as the administration’s global climate change summit was held on Earth Day.) And in addition to Ginger Zee’s EV segment, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News aired 1 segment each on the importance of EVs in the climate fight.
Many segments this year were consumption-focused and dealt with reducing personal carbon footprint. For example, Good Morning America ran a nearly 4-minute segment on eco-friendly household products, which it billed as “Earth Day Deals and Steals Extravaganza.” CBS Mornings ran a segment on its #outgreenme challenge, which aims at increasing social media users’ awareness about environment-friendly habits like reusing and recycling products. NBC’s Today ran 6 such segments on these issues — 2 segments each on sustainable buying and sustainable nutrition, a segment on the importance of recycling, and a segment featuring students across the country who purportedly set a new record for mass plant-watering.
While individual actions such as reducing individual carbon footprint are no doubt important in fighting climate change, addressing the systemic issues around climate change is more important. Extremely powerful and wealthy fossil fuel companies are the ones driving the vast majority of carbon emissions, and it is world governments that have the power to act and make decisions on climate change. This is also a point that Zee made on the April 18 edition of This Week. Unfortunately, climate and environmental-related coverage on Earth Day essentially glossed over the issue of systemic action.
Though the first Earth Day in 1970 had radical roots, corporate greenwashing -- companies “making misleading environmental claims” -- has watered them down, and corporate broadcast TV’s coverage of Earth Day this year was generally a sad example of that.
Among cable news channels, MSNBC produced some solid climate and environmental reporting on Earth Day, while CNN was an embarrassment
MSNBC aired 16 climate and environmental segments on Earth Day across 64 minutes, while CNN aired just 1 segment that lasted 4 minutes. Only 4 segments came during prime-time programming, with 3 on MSNBC and 1 on CNN. Last year, these networks aired a combined 37 segments across 183 minutes.
CNN’s only segment, which aired on The Lead with Jake Tapper and lasted for 4 minutes, represented a whopping 94% decrease from last year, when CNN aired 17 segments across 70 minutes. This is very poor performance for a network that has made multiple public commitments to airing better climate coverage and that employs an excellent climate reporter in Bill Weir. Its lone Earth Day segment featured a discussion between host Jake Tapper and Weir about the seriousness of climate change and the importance of solving it. Weir called climate change “a political will story,” saying, “It's a few people in C-suites and the halls of power that are preventing the big change and that can change.”
What’s even worse, CNN aired only 1 other climate segment during a six-day period between April 17 and April 22. (It was a good segment, however — a wide-ranging interview on the April 21 edition of CNN Newsroom with White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy).
MSNBC, meanwhile, aired 16 climate and environment-related segments across 64 minutes on Earth Day. Last year, MSNBC aired 21 segments across 116 minutes. The quality of MSNBC’s Earth Day segments was generally good. Morning Joe interviewed Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, while Andrea Mitchell Reports interviewed former Secretary of State John Kerry for nearly 14 minutes. Kerry touched upon topics like the Biden administration’s climate actions and the need for global cooperation and action in order to reduce carbon emissions. The ReidOut aired a segment on Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) harmful role in blocking climate action. Host Joy Reid also interviewed Stewart Acuff, a West Virginia member of the Poor People’s Campaign, who discussed Manchin’s ties to the coal industry.
Additionally, MSNBC aired an excellent environmental justice segment on sewage and racial inequality 4 times throughout the day.
Fox News uses Earth Day to advance attacks on climate action, climate advocates, and the Biden administration
At 56 minutes, Fox News aired almost as much Earth Day coverage as MSNBC reporting on Earth Day.
And similar to the previous year, Fox News hosts, anchors, and guests used Earth Day 2022 to attack the policies and people trying to keep our planet habitable. Climate and environment-focused programming on Fox on April 22 attempted, among other things, to tie climate action to high inflation and gas prices; undermine the urgency of the climate crisis by pivoting to the “hypocrisy” of “elites” and “celebrities” who advocate climate solutions; and suggest that efforts to address this threat are unpopular and out of touch.
The vast majority of coverage pushed the GOP narrative (under chyrons such as Green Monster: Climate change agenda could contribute to economic woes) that Biden’s green agenda is fueling or making worse the current economic crisis which Fox defines by indicators such as inflation and the price of gas. For example, Fox Business correspondent Edward Lawrence appeared on at least 4 Fox programs — America Reports, America’s Newsroom, The Story, and Special Report — to report on how climate policies are supposedly costing Americans. In all 4 reports, Lawrence used a recent Securities and Exchange Commission report which concluded that it will cost American companies $10.2 billion to comply with the administration's climate risk and emissions standards, which Lawrence noted would be “passed on to all of us in the things we buy.” Notably, Lawrence failed to put this statistic into context or note that many companies are already reporting their climate risk at the request of investors. And in no instance did these segments note the cost of not acting on climate which the government estimates will be $2 trillion a year. As reported by Politico:
But is $10.2 billion a lot of money? In the scheme of things, maybe not. The world’s publicly traded companies are valued at nearly $106 trillion. In the U.S. alone, public companies alone are worth a collective $41 trillion.
For that group, $10.2 billion, or even a multiple of it, is de minimis. And many companies already spend money to measure and report their greenhouse gas emissions.
Fox dedicated ample time to one of its favorite climate denial tactics: deflecting from the crisis by pointing out the hypocrisy of people like John Kerry who travel by private jet. The tactic also attempts to falsely portray politicians and wealthy celebrities as the face of the climate movement, while ignoring the millions of people around the world harmed by climate change and environmental injustice. One of the network’s longest Earth Day segments aired on America Reports, in which co-anchor Sandra Smith and Fox host Carley Shimkus called out everyone from “Hollywood a-listers and the tech billionaires” to politicians like Kerry and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) for “lectur[ing] middle America about being climate deniers” while they use personal transportation like jets and even ride-sharing services.
The segment came on the heels of an Outnumbered panel discussion specifically focused on celebrities and politicians who “lecture the world on going green but they often fail to practice what they preach”. Later, guest host Jeanne Pirro on Jesse Watters Primetime questioned why Biden doesn’t drive a Tesla before attacking Kerry for flying private: “They want you to change your life, but they won’t do anything to change theirs.” On Hannity, former Trump senior counsel Kellyanne Conway criticized Biden’s carbon footprint as he traveled to Seattle to deliver his Earth Day speech.
In addition to reinforcing the idea that climate change is somehow an elite cause, Fox also focused on the notion that most Americans supposedly don’t care about climate change. During her appearance on America Reports, Shimkus noted that Biden would be better served to tackle inflation rather than climate change, saying that though climate change is “important to a group of people, but from a political standpoint, there are far fewer of those than who are hurting in the country right now.” Conway also made the case on Hannity that Biden is focusing on climate change at the expense of “the issues Americans are clearly telling every pollster are most important to them.” Fox News’ morning coverage on Fox & Friends First and America’s Newsroom suggested that rising crime in cities like Seattle where Biden spent Earth Day was more of a crisis than climate change and that Biden was tone deaf to address climate while staying silent on crime.
America Reports guest anchor Mike Emanuel also touched on this framing, tying it to inflation and saying: “You are seeing the cost at the pump going up regularly, Americans getting hit at the grocery store and at the gas station. And so a lot of people are looking at this [Biden’s climate agenda] and saying they are out of touch.”
The drop in coverage compared to last year does not bode well for overall climate coverage this year
Each year, Media Matters looks at how news shows on corporate broadcast TV networks ABC, CBS, and ABC cover climate change. Our studies typically find that “good” years in climate coverage are followed by “bad” years. For example, climate coverage in 2020 dropped significantly from 2019, and 2019’s numbers were significantly better than in 2018. Last year was by far the best-performing year of climate coverage since we began analyzing this data in 2011.
Given the evolving urgency to address climate change, it’s imperative that corporate broadcast TV networks keep their foot on the gas in covering the issue with the attention that it deserves. Unfortunately, the significant drop in climate and environmental-related coverage on Earth Day from 2021 to 2022 does not inspire confidence. It’s even worse when looking solely at climate segments. In 2021, there were 18 specific climate segments on Earth Day on ABC, CBS, and NBC. In 2022, there were just 8 climate segments. These are not good numbers, and news shows must do better.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream and Kinetiq video databases for all original programming on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC and all original episodes for ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight; CBS’ Mornings and Evening News; NBC’s Today and Nightly News; and PBS’ NewsHour for any of the terms “Earth Day,” “global warming,” “climate,” or “carbon” or any variations of either of the terms “emissions” or “environment” on April 22, 2022.
We timed segments, which we defined as instances when environmental or climate issues were the stated topic of discussion or when we found “significant discussion” of environmental or climate issues. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed environmental or climate issues with one another. We also timed mentions, which we defined as instances when environmental or climate issues were mentioned by a single speaker without another speaker engaging with the comment. We rounded all times to the nearest minute and all percentages to the nearest whole.