The Green New Deal has been one of the most important climate stories so far in 2019, but the major broadcast nightly news shows have given it virtually no coverage.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) unveiled the plan in February. The Senate held a vote -- albeit a sham vote -- on the proposal in March. Six Democratic presidential candidates are co-sponsors of the deal, while three others support it, and they have been talking about it on the campaign trail, helping to turn climate change into a major campaign issue. The Green New Deal was discussed during the first round of primary debates in late June. President Donald Trump has criticized the plan since it was released, including during a recent speech. And the Sunrise Movement and other grassroots groups have made the Green New Deal a priority, galvanizing a new generation of climate activists.
All of the energy and action around the Green New Deal has led to an uptick in media coverage of the climate crisis this year, though it still falls short of the quantity and quality of coverage we should be seeing. Prime-time cable news shows have covered the proposal, including in a special event MSNBC’s Chris Hayes hosted with Ocasio-Cortez specifically to discuss the plan. However, Fox has covered it much more often than CNN and MSNBC, and much more poorly.
Despite the uptick in media coverage, broadcast nightly news has failed to cover the Green New Deal
But while many other news outlets have covered the Green New Deal, the major broadcast networks’ nightly news shows have been virtually silent on it. The nightly news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC aired no segments about the Green New Deal from January 1 to July 8, and made only one passing mention of it. The nightly news shows also failed to cover the proposal in November and December of 2018, according to Public Citizen.
The only passing mention this year occurred on the March 7 episode of NBC Nightly News, and it had nothing to do with climate change. It came in a segment about allegations of anti-Semitism made against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and a fight between progressive and moderate Democrats. After citing Ocasio-Cortez’s support for Omar and denunciation of anti-Muslim hate, reporter Kasie Hunt stated, “This conflict between younger, progressive Democrats and leadership could get even more intense over issues like the Green New Deal and impeachment.” This type of framing for Green New Deal references is common, unfortunately. Media outlets often frame discussions of the plan in narrow, political ways, emphasizing political divisions and neglecting or even completely ignoring the climate crisis that the plan is intended to address.
The broadcast nightly news shows’ failure to cover the Green New Deal is not surprising. The programs have a terrible record when it comes to covering climate change. In 2018, the major nightly news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC spent only 55 combined minutes reporting on the climate crisis -- a 66% decrease from 2017. And when they do air climate coverage, they usually don't cover policy plans or actions to address the problem. In 2017 and 2018, less than 19% of the climate segments on broadcast networks’ nightly news shows and Sunday morning shows even mentioned potential solutions.
These are pitiful figures at a time when growing numbers of Americans are recognizing that climate change poses a massive existential crisis. The nightly news shows’ neglect of one of the biggest climate change stories in the first half of 2019 is a dereliction of their duty to report the news. The broadcast nightly news programs still have big audiences; they average close to 27 million viewers per weeknight. They should be keeping these viewers informed about the climate crisis and major proposed plans to tackle it.
Media Matters searched the Nexis database for transcripts of ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News containing the phrase “Green New Deal” between January 1 and July 8, 2019.