The news that an Antarctic ice sheet is disintegrating and could contribute to a dramatic rise in sea level was ignored on CNN, in contrast to other major television networks.
Two new studies found that a large section of the West Antarctica ice sheet is deteriorating due to warm ocean waters and that its loss appears to be unstoppable. Many news outlets recognized it was a rare moment in climate change reporting, with the story making the front page of The New York Times, the evening broadcasts for all the major networks and even The Weather Channel's coverage.*
On cable news, MSNBC covered the ice sheet's disintegration in six separate shows, Al Jazeera in two, and even Fox News covered it once, when anchor Shepard Smith declared that “climate change -- it is real, the science is true”:
However, CNN U.S. failed to cover the story at all. Only CNN International covered the story in a segment that was simulcast on CNN U.S. at 3 a.m. on Tuesday. This is not the first time that CNN did not cover a major climate story, leading Jon Stewart to mock it for favoring sensationalist news over more important topics like climate change.
Meanwhile, the Daily Caller tried to distract from this harrowing news by pointing to Antarctic sea ice, which has grown slightly in recent decades despite warming in the Southern Ocean. The Daily Caller used this growth to claim that "[g]lobal [c]ooling" is taking place and that the “South Pole isn't melting.” However, as NASA, which conducted one of the studies, explained in an online quiz, “sea ice loss in the Arctic dwarfs any gains in the Antarctic.”
If the Antarctic sea ice were melting it would not measurably contribute to sea level rise -- just as if ice cubes in a glass melted, they would not raise the level of the water. By contrast, the melting Antarctic ice sheets mean that “a rise in sea level of 10 feet or more may be unavoidable in coming centuries,” according to The New York Times, but cutting our carbon emissions can slow the rise and avoid greater sea level rise.
*Coverage counts throughout this piece based on a search of an internal television database for “Antarctic,” “Antarctica,” “ice sheet,” NASA," or “sea level” from May 12 to May 13, 2014.
Image at top shows a calving ice sheet in West Antarctica via NASA/GSFC/Jefferson Beck.