The day after President Donald Trump made good on his campaign promise to roll back former President Barack Obama’s executive orders aimed at fighting climate change and reducing carbon pollution, the nightly newscasts finally covered the impact of Trump’s presidency on climate policy -- providing the type of reporting that was glaringly absent in their pre-election coverage in 2016.
On Tuesday, Trump took his biggest step yet toward fulfilling his campaign promise to dial back Obama's climate policies and begin “withdrawing and rewriting the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which would have closed hundreds of coal-fired power plants, frozen construction of new plants and replaced them with vast new wind and solar farms.” During the signing ceremony, Trump announced, “That is what this is all about: bringing back our jobs, bringing back our dreams and making America wealthy again.”
On the same day, the nightly newscasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC all aired segments on Trump’s executive actions, questioning whether he would actually be able to restore coal mining jobs. Some reports noted that increased automation in the industry and competition from natural gas have made the return of coal mining jobs unlikely, and others noted that the renewable energy sector now dwarfs coal mining in employment numbers.
The major networks’ unanimous coverage of Trump’s executive order, while commendable, puts into stark relief their failure to inform viewers before the election about what to expect on climate change and climate-related policies under a Trump administration.
On the campaign trail, Trump had repeatedly promised to eliminate climate regulations enacted by Obama. But as Media Matters’ annual study examining the major networks’ climate coverage in 2016 found, the nightly news and Sunday shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC failed to discuss climate-related ramifications of a Trump presidency until after the election. In fact, the Tyndall Report, which tracks the broadcast networks' weeknight newscasts, found that ABC, CBS, and NBC had all but given up covering issues and presidential policies during campaign season.
PBS NewsHour, by contrast, aired two segments before the election examining what impact a Trump or a Clinton presidency would have on climate-related issues and policies. As it happens, the Trump administration is now proposing significant budget cuts that could severely hamper PBS’ ability to operate.
Segments on ABC’s World News Tonight and NBC Nightly News on Trump’s executive order both featured Trump calling climate change a “hoax” without noting that his comment contradicts the scientific consensus that climate change is real and human-caused -- something we found many networks also did last year.
But there were a few bright spots on CBS Evening News, which has been one of the better nightly shows when it comes to coverage of climate change and science. In CBS’ segment on the executive order, White House correspondent Major Garrett noted that both Trump and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt deny human-caused climate change. But, in contrast to other news shows, anchor Scott Pelley noted earlier in the segment that “methane and coal are the leading contributors to climate warming.”
And following the segment on Trump’s executive action, CBS Evening News aired an interview with climate scientist Ben Santer, who discussed Trump’s anti-science views and policies, a letter he wrote to Trump urging him not to listen to “ignorant voices” denying climate change, and the “new climate of intimidation” the Trump administration has created for scientists.