Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

How broadcast TV networks covered climate change in 2017

Broadcast TV news neglected many critical climate change stories in 2017 while devoting most of its climate coverage to President Donald Trump. Seventy-nine percent of climate change coverage on the major corporate broadcast TV networks last year focused on statements or actions by the Trump administration, with heavy attention given to the president's decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement and to whether he accepts that human-caused climate change is a scientific reality. But the networks undercovered or ignored the ways that climate change had real-life impacts on people, the economy, national security, and the year’s extreme weather events -- a major oversight in a year when weather disasters killed hundreds of Americans, displaced hundreds of thousands more, and cost the economy in excess of $300 billion.

  • You can find a PDF version of this study here.

    Top trends from a year of broadcast TV news climate coverage

    For this study, Media Matters examined 2017 coverage of climate change on broadcast TV networks, which included segments devoted to climate change and segments in which a media figure made substantial mention of climate change. We analyzed coverage on ABC's, CBS', and NBC's nightly news programs and Sunday morning political shows. We also analyzed FOX Broadcasting Co.’s syndicated Sunday morning political show, Fox News Sunday. FOX Broadcasting Co. does not have a nightly news program, so, overall, there was far less FOX airtime to analyze. In addition to the corporate broadcast networks, we examined weekday coverage on PBS's nightly news program, PBS NewsHour. PBS does not have a Sunday morning political show.

    Key findings:

    • The Trump administration drove climate coverage in 2017: 79 percent of the time that corporate broadcast networks spent covering climate change, or 205 out of 260 total minutes, featured actions or statements by the Trump administration. The networks gave vastly less coverage to the many ways that climate change affects people's lives through its impacts on things like extreme weather, public health, and national security.

    • Virtually all coverage of climate change on Sunday shows -- 94 of 95 minutes -- revolved around the Trump administration.

    • President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement dominated coverage of climate-related policies and news events, being featured in 52 percent of all climate segments on the corporate broadcast networks. The Trump administration's rollbacks of other climate protections like the Clean Power Plan received far less coverage.

    • Despite 2017 being a record year for weather and climate disasters, the corporate broadcast networks rarely covered the link between climate change and extreme weather events in the U.S. They aired only four total segments that discussed climate change in the context of disasters that happened in the U.S. last year, including just two that mentioned climate change in the context of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, or Maria.

    • CBS and PBS led all broadcast networks in the number of segments they devoted to climate change in 2017, as well as in coverage of climate-related scientific research and number of climate scientists interviewed or quoted. But CBS and PBS were also the only two networks to feature guests who flatly denied that human activity causes climate change.

    • Network climate coverage in 2017 heavily featured climate denial, most of which came from Trump and officials in his administration. Nineteen percent of the networks' climate-related segments mentioned that Trump has called climate change a “hoax,” and 37 percent of those did not rebut that claim by noting the scientific consensus around climate change or affirming the reality of climate change.

    Trump dominated climate coverage in 2017

    Majority of climate coverage on corporate broadcast networks featured actions or statements by the Trump administration. In 2017, ABC's, CBS', and NBC's nightly news and Sunday morning programs, plus FOX Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday, aired a combined 260 minutes of climate coverage. Of that total, 79 percent, or 205 minutes, featured actions or statements by the Trump administration, most often President Donald Trump’s decision on the Paris agreement and his personal views on whether human-caused climate change is a scientific reality.

    Analyzing the coverage in terms of the number of segments, instead of minutes, also showed a heavy focus on the Trump administration. We counted climate-related segments on ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX, plus those on PBS NewsHour, and found that out of 188 total segments, 68 percent, or 127 segments, were about actions or statements by the Trump administration.

    While the Trump administration's unprecedented attacks on climate protections certainly warranted attention, the broadcast networks' coverage was too narrowly focused on the Paris decision and Trump's climate denial. Attacks on the Clean Power Plan, auto fuel-economy standards, and other important climate policies did not receive adequate coverage. And the corporate broadcast networks often missed important climate stories that did not involve Trump, including developments in climate science and the impacts of climate change on extreme weather, public health, and the economy.

    Virtually all of the Sunday show climate coverage revolved around the Trump administration. The Sunday shows aired a combined 95 minutes of climate coverage this year, 94 of which featured actions or statements by the Trump administration -- most often Trump’s decision on whether to remain in the Paris climate agreement.

    More than two-thirds of nightly news coverage of climate change was about the Trump administration. On the corporate nightly news programs, Trump did not entirely monopolize climate coverage, but he was still the focus of a heavy majority. Out of a combined 164 minutes of nightly news climate coverage on ABC, CBS, and NBC, 68 percent, or 112 minutes, featured Trump administration statements or actions.

    Looking at the number of segments, and including PBS NewsHour, we found that still about two-thirds were focused on Trump. Out of 163 climate segments on the nightly news shows, 65 percent, or 106 segments, featured Trump administration actions or statements. On every network, a majority of coverage was related to the Trump administration, with ABC’s World News Tonight having the highest percentage of Trump-related climate coverage (78 percent), followed by CBS Evening News (71 percent), PBS NewsHour (61 percent), and NBC Nightly News (56 percent).

    Broadcast networks' heavy focus on Trump in their 2017 climate coverage followed their failure to cover climate change as a campaign issue during 2016. During the presidential campaign in 2016, the corporate broadcast networks did not air a single segment informing viewers how a win by Trump or Hillary Clinton could affect climate change or climate policy, as we reported in our previous version of this annual study. After Trump won the presidency, the networks played catch-up, covering the Trump actions that they had failed to warn viewers about the year before. [Media Matters, 3/23/17]

    Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement dominated networks’ coverage of climate policies

    Nearly half of all climate segments in 2017 were about Trump’s decision on the Paris climate agreement. The broadcast networks devoted significant coverage to the run-up to and aftermath of Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. On June 1, Trump formally made the announcement, at the time making the U.S. one of only three countries in the world not intending to participate in the Paris accord (the other two have since signed on). Out of the 188 total climate segments the broadcast networks aired in 2017, 45 percent, or 85 segments, featured discussion of the Paris agreement. [Business Insider, 6/1/17; The New York Times, 11/7/17]

    Trump administration’s moves to roll back the Clean Power Plan and other climate-related regulations received relatively little coverage. In March, Trump signed an executive order to begin the process of rolling back Obama-era regulations aimed at fighting climate change, including the Clean Power Plan, which established the first-ever federal limits on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants and served as the linchpin of President Barack Obama’s program to meet the obligations of the Paris agreement. In October, Scott Pruitt, administrator of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), advanced the process by proposing to officially repeal the Clean Power Plan. But though the rollbacks of the Clean Power Plan and other climate protections will have real effects on Americans and the quality of the air they breathe, the networks gave them relatively little attention. They aired just 26 segments on rollbacks of climate protections and 16 segments on the Clean Power Plan specifically. [Media Matters, 3/30/17; The Guardian, 2/9/16; The Washington Post, 10/9/17]

    Networks did not mention climate change in a single segment on the Dakota Access or Keystone XL pipelines. Shortly after his inauguration, Trump signed executive orders green-lighting the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines. The Dakota Access Pipeline is now pumping oil, and plans for Keystone XL are moving forward. Both projects have garnered strong opposition from Native American tribes and environmental activists, partly because they would lead to increased carbon dioxide emissions and worsen climate change. Tribes and green groups pursued lawsuits last year to halt the pipelines, and in March, Native American groups marched in Washington, D.C., to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. Yet, none of the networks discussed the pipelines’ implications for climate change. The Keystone XL Pipeline did come up in an interview that touched on climate change between Scott Pruitt and host George Stephanopoulos on the March 26 episode of ABC’s This Week. However, Pruitt only brought up the pipeline to praise the president for creating jobs and did not discuss its potential impact on climate change. [The Guardian, 1/24/17, 3/10/17; InsideClimate News, 3/30/17; ABC’s This Week, 3/26/17]

    Networks devoted some coverage to actions to fight climate change -- many of which were spurred by Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement. Though the Trump administration's moves dominated climate coverage, the networks also aired 36 segments that featured statements and actions to combat climate change by local and state leaders, businesses, and others. Many of these actions were announced in reaction to Trump’s Paris decision. For example, on June 2, after covering Trump's Paris announcement, CBS Evening News aired a story about the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of governors formed “to honor the commitment of the [Paris] agreement.” [CBS Evening News, 6/2/17]

    The People’s Climate March received almost no coverage on Sunday shows. The People’s Climate March, which took place on April 29, 2017, marked the 100th day of Trump's presidency and was a protest of his administration's moves to roll back climate protections. The main march on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., attracted an estimated 200,000 people, according to organizers, and more than 375 satellite marches were held around the U.S. and the world. Three of the four Sunday morning shows took no note of the march at all, and ABC's This Week mentioned it only briefly. [The Washington Post, 4/29/17]

    Networks generally failed to connect the dots between climate change and 2017’s record-setting natural disasters

    2017 was a record year for weather and climate disasters, yet corporate broadcast networks provided scant discussion of climate change in their coverage of extreme weather events. 2017 was the costliest disaster year in the U.S. history. Weather and climate disasters in the country cost $306 billion in total damages, and 16 extreme weather events each cost more than $1 billion in damages. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria were particularly destructive. Maria alone displaced hundreds of thousands of people and may have led to more than 1,000 deaths.

    Numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies have linked climate change to stronger and more damaging hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, heat waves, and other forms of extreme weather. Recent research has even quantified the extent to which climate change exacerbated specific weather events. For example, in December, two scientific studies reported that climate change had increased Hurricane Harvey's rainfall by at least 15 percent.

    Yet the corporate broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX -- aired just four total segments that discussed climate change in the context of the hurricanes or other 2017 weather disasters in the U.S. PBS, by contrast, aired eight such segments. The networks aired three more segments that covered the links between climate change and extreme weather events outside the U.S. [The Washington Post, 1/8/18, 12/13/17, 12/6/17; CBS News, 12/5/17; The New York Times, 12/18/17; Media Matters, 9/14/17, 7/5/17; InsideClimate News, 7/11/17;, 5/1/17; USA Today, 5/12/17]  

    Networks mentioned climate change in segments on the following extreme weather events in the United States:

    • 2017’s major hurricanes, Harvey, Irma, and Maria, were covered in seven segments that mentioned climate change on PBS (5), CBS (1), and NBC (1). ABC and FOX did not bring up climate change during any segments on the hurricanes.

    • The June heat wave that affected large swaths of the Southwest was covered in two segments that mentioned climate change, one on PBS and one on CBS.

    • The July wildfires in the Western U.S. were covered in one segment on CBS that mentioned climate change.

    • The December wildfires in Southern California, which included the state’s largest wildfires since 1932, were covered in three segments that mentioned climate change, all of which ran on PBS. None of the other networks linked the fires to climate change. [, 12/26/17]

    • A Florida drought and record rainfall in Missouri were mentioned in a June segment on ABC about climate change.

    The networks aired an additional 19 segments that mentioned that climate change exacerbates extreme weather, but these segments only discussed the connection in general terms and did not refer to a specific 2017 weather event.

    Networks ignored climate change in their coverage of numerous other weather disasters. While the networks did devote climate coverage to the weather events outlined above, they neglected to mention climate change in connection with other natural disasters, including wildfires in the Pacific Northwest and Montana, extreme flooding in California, and wildfires in Northern California's wine country. [Media Matters, 12/20/17; NPR, 2/28/17; E&E News, 10/12/17]

    A recent report found that U.S. media outlets consistently failed last year to explain how extreme weather is connected to climate change. The nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen recently released a report that analyzed coverage on U.S. TV and radio programs and in newspapers, which found that the vast majority of stories on weather disasters did not mention climate change. In the most extreme example, 96 percent of stories about 2017’s historic hurricane season did not note the role that climate change plays in intensifying hurricanes. [Public Citizen, 1/5/18; Media Matters, 1/10/18]

    Networks rarely covered how climate change affects national security, public health, and the economy

    Even though the impact of climate change on extreme weather events received too little attention, it was covered more than other important impacts of climate change, such as how it affects public health and national security. The second most covered impact was abnormal weather trends, such as increased global temperatures and melting glaciers. Overall, the many ways that climate change affects human society and the natural world were severely undercovered in 2017.

    PBS led the networks in coverage of abnormal weather trends. PBS provided the most coverage of climate-related abnormal weather trends, airing 12 such segments, followed by CBS and NBC (eight segments each), and ABC (three segments). FOX did not air any segments on abnormal weather trends linked to climate change. Examples of abnormal weather reporting include a PBS NewsHour segment that discussed how rising temperatures and melting sea ice in the Arctic are heightening the danger of floods and storms for Alaskan native communities, an NBC segment about how climate change is causing significant loss of glaciers in Glacier National Park, and a CBS segment that discussed Arctic sea ice “shrinking at a rate never seen before.” [PBS NewsHour, 8/2/17; NBC Nightly News, 11/12/17; CBS Evening News, 4/22/17]

    PBS and CBS led the networks in coverage of sea-level rise, while ABC and FOX ignored it. A number of studies published in 2017 found that sea-level rise is proceeding faster, and may be more severe, than previous research indicated. PBS and CBS aired the most segments on rising sea levels: seven each. NBC aired three segments, while ABC and FOX both neglected to address the topic in their climate coverage. [E&E News, 12/29/17]

    CBS provided the most coverage of climate-related impacts on plants and wildlife. CBS covered the impacts of climate change on plants and wildlife the most (six segments), followed by NBC and PBS (four segments each), and ABC (three segments), while FOX aired no segments on the subject. A September 17 CBS Evening News story, for example, noted that climate change threatens more than 300 bird species. [CBS Evening News, 9/17/17]

    Corporate broadcast networks aired just four combined segments on climate change’s public health impacts. The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Public Health Association all consider climate change a public health threat. In March, E&E News reported that “11 medical associations — representing around half the doctors and physicians in the country — are creating a group that intends to address the links between climate change and health risks.” And a report published in the British medical journal The Lancet in October concluded that climate change is already having “potentially irreversible” impacts on human health. But the corporate broadcast networks largely neglected to cover the important connections between climate change and health: CBS aired just two segments on the links, NBC and FOX each aired one segment, and ABC aired none. PBS, by comparison, aired five segments on the links between climate change and public health, including a July 5 segment that reported that climate change could mean that “people living in the South … will be hit more with heat-related complications, like heatstroke.” [World Health Organization, accessed 2/8/18; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed 2/8/18; American Public Health Association, accessed 2/8/18; E&E News, 3/17/17; USA Today, 10/30/17; PBS NewsHour, 7/5/17]

    CBS and NBC rarely covered economic impacts of climate change, while ABC and FOX ignored the topic. CBS aired only two segments on the ways climate change affects the economy, while NBC aired just one segment and ABC and FOX both aired none. PBS NewsHour covered climate change’s economic impacts in five segments, including one on May 31 in which climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer explained that the costs associated with EPA greenhouse gas regulations are “less than the cost of the damages that climate change will bring.” PBS also aired a March 29 segment reporting that “rising sea levels, accelerated by global warming, mean forests of mangroves [in the Florida Everglades] are moving far inland, killing off the natural habitat” -- part of degradation of the Everglades that puts billions of dollars' worth of economic activity at risk. [PBS NewsHour, 5/31/17, 3/29/17]

    Networks rarely discussed national security implications of climate change. For nearly three decades, the Defense Department has considered climate change a national security threat. Yet, in December, Trump broke with the Pentagon’s long-standing policy, as well as the view of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and removed climate change from the list of threats outlined in the White House’s National Security Strategy report. The broadcast networks rarely mentioned how climate change affects national security. It came up in just three segments, one each on CBS, NBC, and PBS, including a June 4 segment on CBS’ Face the Nation in which host John Dickerson quoted German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s comment that “climate change affects drought and famine and war” in Africa. [Vox, 1/12/18; HuffPost, 12/18/17; CBS’ Face the Nation, 6/4/17]

    Network climate coverage heavily featured climate denial, largely from Trump and his officials

    Climate segments often highlighted Trump’s “hoax” claim without rebuttal. Prior to and during the presidential campaign, Trump frequently claimed that climate change is a “hoax.” Nineteen percent of the broadcast networks’ climate-related segments in 2017 quoted or aired footage of Trump making his “hoax” claim -- 35 segments out of a total of 188. And 13 of the segments that included Trump’s “hoax” quote -- more than a third of them -- did so without noting the scientific consensus around climate change or affirming the reality of climate change. [Media Matters, 5/26/16]

    Trump officials frequently obfuscated on whether the president believes that climate change is caused by humans. In an interview with The New York Times two weeks after the 2016 election, Trump said, “I think there is some connectivity” between human activity and climate change -- which might sound like a moderate position, but is in fact at odds with the scientific consensus that human activity is the primary cause of global warming. Broadcast network journalists sought to clarify Trump’s stance in subsequent interviews with Trump officials but were often met with obfuscation. In nine segments on the broadcast networks, Trump officials deflected questions about whether the president believes climate change is happening. The officials alternately stressed that Trump believes human activity plays some role in climate change (without specifying how much), that he believes the “climate changes,” or that his views were “evolving.”

    For example, in a June 4 segment on CBS' Face the Nation, host John Dickerson and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley had the following exchange:

    DICKERSON: Does the president believe in climate change, ambassador?

    HALEY: He believes the climate is changing and he believes pollutants are part of that equation. […]

    DICKERSON: That seems to be a difference from what the president has said. Before he had said, “I do not believe in climate change,” and he has called it a “hoax.” So you're saying that's not true, he believes in man-made climate change?

    HALEY: The president believes the climate is changing, and he does know that pollutants are a part of that equation.

    DICKERSON: So he believes that human activity, which creates those pollutants, leads to climate change. Is that right?

    HALEY: I mean, John -- John, I just gave you the answer. I mean that's -- that's what he believes. And so that's as clear as I know to give it.

    Similarly, Scott Pruitt avoided giving host George Stephanopoulos a clear answer about whether Trump continued to believe climate change is a hoax on the June 4 episode of ABC’s This Week. Despite Stephanopoulos pressing for clarity on the issue, Pruitt merely said that Trump believes “the climate changes” and that his conversations with the president focused on “the merits and the demerits of the Paris agreement” rather than on Trump's beliefs regarding climate change. [The New York Times, 11/23/16; Media Matters, 5/26/16; Union of Concerned Scientists, accessed 2/8/18; CBS’ Face the Nation, 6/4/17; ABC’s This Week, 6/4/17]

    Trump officials adopted new tack of “lukewarm” climate denial, and most networks failed to accurately identify it as denial. A number of journalists have written about a relatively new approach to climate denial adopted by some Republicans and Trump appointees, which was pervasive during confirmation hearings for Trump nominees in early 2017. The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer described it thusly: “A nominee first recognized the reality of ‘some’ global warming—sounding appropriately grave and concerned about it—before they pivoted to casting doubt on whether humans were behind this warming, or even whether a human influence could ever be known at all.” Vox’s David Roberts and other climate journalists and advocates have described these sorts of deniers as “lukewarmers.” As Mashable’s Andrew Freeman wrote, “In hearing after hearing, Trump's cabinet nominees slipped through Democrats' grasp by uttering reasonable enough statements that still significantly mischaracterized the state of climate science, which holds that global warming is largely human-caused and is an urgent threat — one that can only be addressed by making drastic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. … They moved from outright climate denial to a more subtle, insidious and risky form.” [Media Matters, 3/16/17; The Atlantic, 3/15/17; Vox, 1/12/17; Mashable, 1/24/17]

    Out of 15 news segments that featured lukewarm climate denial -- including interviews with Trump officials on Sunday shows -- 10 segments (67 percent) did not accurately describe it as a form of climate denial. For example, a segment about Scott Pruitt’s confirmation hearing on the January 18 episode of ABC’s World News Tonight featured footage of Pruitt saying that he did not believe climate change is a hoax, but it failed to note that he disputed human activity’s role in causing climate change. By contrast, CBS -- the only network that accurately described lukewarm denial in all segments that featured it -- reported in a January 24 segment that Pruitt stated that “scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” but immediately followed Pruitt’s comments with the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Rachel Cleetus explaining, “This is the sort of climate denial that says, ‘Yes, it's real. But we don't know what's causing it.’ And basically, it's yet another way to kick the can down the road and not take any action.”

    Pruitt's lukewarm denial was also on display on the Sunday shows. In a June 4 exchange, Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s Meet the Press, failed to note that Pruitt’s statements were at odds with the scientific consensus that greenhouse gases resulting from human activity are the dominant cause of global warming:

    CHUCK TODD: Do you believe that CO2 is the primary cause [of climate change]?

    SCOTT PRUITT: CO2 contributes to climate change, much like-- Methane actually is more potent.

    TODD: You don't believe that CO2 is the primary cause.

    PRUITT: No, no. I didn't say that. I said it's a cause.

    TODD: Primary?

    PRUITT: It's a cause of many. It's a cause like methane and water vapor and the rest.

    TODD: All right, Scott Pruitt, I'm going to leave it there, because I know you've got to run.

    PRUITT: Thanks, Chuck.

    FOX’s Chris Wallace, on the other hand, noted the scientific inaccuracy of Pruitt's claims during his April 2 interview with the EPA administrator on Fox News Sunday. After airing footage of Pruitt downplaying the role of carbon dioxide in climate change, Wallace said, “Mr. Pruitt, there are all kinds of studies that contradict you. The U.N.'s panel on climate change says it is at least 95 percent likely that more than half the temperature increase since the mid-20th century is due to human activities. NOAA, that's our own National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says there's more carbon dioxide now than in the last 400,000 years, and NOAA says 2015 and 2016 are the two hottest years on record. Mr. Pruitt, are we supposed to believe that that's all a coincidence?” [ABC’s World News Tonight, 1/18/17; CBS Evening News, 1/24/17; NBC’s Meet the Press, 6/4/17; Fox News Sunday, 4/2/17]

    CBS and PBS hosted guests who flatly denied climate change. CBS and PBS were the only two networks to air interviews with subjects who explicitly disputed the scientific consensus that human activity is the primary cause of global warming.

    • The October 10 episode of PBS NewsHour featured an interview with coal executive Robert Murray. Correspondent John Yang asked him, “You don’t see climate change as an issue or a problem at all, despite what other scientists say?” Murray replied, “I do not. I do not, because I listen to 4,000 scientists, and who tell me that mankind is not affecting climate change.” It's unclear to which scientists he was referring. Yang concluded the interview after Murray’s comment and did not push back against his claim. [PBS NewsHour, 10/10/17]

    • On April 22, CBS Evening News aired an interview with Joe Bast, president of the Heartland Institute, a denialist conservative think tank, which began with correspondent Dean Reynolds stating, “Scientists may worry about melting polar ice, rising seas, or strengthening storms. But to Joe Bast, all of what others call warning signs of climate change are just the natural order of things.” Bast told Reynolds, “The efforts to stop global warming or slow it down are way disproportional to what the science suggests would be necessary,” and Reynolds paraphrased Bast as saying that climate change is “a naturally occurring cyclical phenomenon caused mostly by the sun, not an approaching disaster accelerated by carbon dioxide emissions caused by humans.” Reynolds did note in the segment, however, that “most climate scientists, the United Nations, as well as NASA, dismiss these arguments as propaganda for fossil fuels.” [CBS Evening News, 4/22/17]

    PBS and CBS did the best job of covering climate science

    2017 was a notable year for climate research. 2017 saw a wealth of important and alarming developments in climate-related scientific research. To name just a few: Early in 2017, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed that 2016 was earth’s hottest year on record. In March, scientists reported that sea ice in both the Arctic and Antarctic was at its lowest-ever levels, and three months later scientists concluded that 30 percent of the world's population is currently at risk of experiencing deadly heat waves. In October, a report found that tropical forests, which were once thought to be carbon sinks, are actually a net carbon source. In November, the Global Carbon Project reported that global carbon dioxide emissions are again on the rise after remaining flat for three years. December saw the release of research in the developing field of attribution science, which assesses how climate change has influenced individual extreme weather events: Two studies quantified the extent to which climate change boosted Hurricane Harvey's rainfall, and another set of studies found that human-caused climate change was a “significant driver” for 21 of 27 extreme weather events in 2016. Many of these developments received no network coverage at all. [, 1/18/17; E&E News, 12/29/17; InsideClimate News, 6/19/17; The Washington Post, 12/13/17; The New York Times, 12/14/17]

    PBS and CBS led the networks in coverage of climate-related scientific research. Though both networks hosted guests who explicitly denied the climate science consensus, PBS and CBS still did the best job of reporting on climate science in 2017, airing 15 and 12 segments, respectively. For example, a PBS NewsHour segment on the Southern California wildfires in December featured two scientists discussing the link between climate change and wildfires, and a CBS Evening News segment in July cited Columbia University research on how extreme heat from climate change may limit aircraft takeoffs. NBC aired eight segments on climate-related scientific research, ABC aired five, and FOX aired none. [PBS NewsHour, 12/13/17; CBS Evening News, 7/15/17]

    PBS featured more scientists than the other networks combined. PBS NewsHour interviewed or quoted more scientists in its climate coverage than all the other networks combined -- 29 scientists, compared to a total of 27 scientists for the others. CBS interviewed or quoted 14 scientists, NBC featured 10, ABC featured three, and FOX featured none.

    For second year in a row, Sunday shows did not feature a single scientist in climate-related coverage. For two consecutive years, the Sunday morning news shows have not featured any scientists in their climate coverage. The high point was in 2014, when Sunday shows had a combined seven scientists on as guests to discuss climate change. In 2015, they featured two scientists. [Media Matters, 3/23/17]

    PBS and CBS led the networks in covering the Trump administration’s anti-science moves as they relate to climate change. The Trump administration has carried out a wide array of anti-science actions, including targeting climate science in budget cuts, weakening science advisory boards and stacking them with industry allies, disregarding scientific input, and scrubbing scientific data and the words “climate change” from government websites. PBS and CBS led the networks in coverage of the Trump administration’s efforts to suppress or hamper science as related to climate change, airing 10 and eight segments, respectively. ABC aired five such segments, NBC aired two, and FOX aired none. [Media Matters, 8/17/16; Union of Concerned Scientists, July 2017; InsideClimate News, 5/24/17; Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, accessed 2/8/18]

    CBS led corporate broadcast networks in nightly news coverage of climate change, while FOX led in Sunday show coverage

    Among the corporate broadcast networks, CBS outpaced nightly news competitors. CBS Evening News provided more coverage of climate change (90 minutes) than the other two corporate networks' nightly news shows combined. NBC Nightly News came in second (43 minutes), while ABC’s World News Tonight gave the least amount of coverage (31 minutes).

    PBS led all broadcast nightly news shows in climate change segments. When considering public broadcaster PBS as well as corporate broadcast networks, PBS NewsHour featured the highest number of climate change segments (69), followed by CBS Evening News (44), NBC Nightly News (27), and ABC’s World News Tonight (23).

    FOX led the Sunday shows in climate coverage. Among the Sunday shows, Fox News Sunday featured the most climate coverage (42 minutes), and CBS’ Face the Nation featured the least (seven minutes). In between were ABC’s This Week (26 minutes) and NBC’s Meet the Press (21 minutes).

    Evlondo Cooper and Lisa Hymas contributed research to this report. Charts by Sarah Wasko.  


    This report analyzes coverage of climate change between January 1, 2017, and December 31, 2017, on four Sunday news shows (ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, NBC's Meet the Press, and FOX Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday) and four nightly news programs (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and PBS NewsHour) based on Nexis transcripts. FOX Broadcasting Co. airs Fox News Sunday but does not air a nightly news equivalent; Fox News is a separate cable channel. PBS NewsHour is a half-hour longer than its network nightly news counterparts, but it airs five days a week, compared to seven days a week for the other nightly news shows (PBS NewsHour Weekend was not included in this analysis).

    To identify news segments that discussed climate change, we searched for the following terms in Nexis: climate change, global warming, changing climate, climate warms, climate warming, warming climate, warmer climate, warming planet, warmer planet, warming globe, warmer globe, global temperatures, rising temperatures, hotter temperatures, climate science, and climate scientist. In some instances, Nexis categorized a segment that did not mention one of our search terms as being about climate change, and if the segment provided other clear indications that it was indeed about climate change, it was included. In addition, we counted all segments about the Paris climate accord as climate change segments, since the purpose of the accord is to address climate change. To identify segments networks aired on the Paris accord, we ran the following search in Nexis: paris climate, climate accord, paris accord, climate agreement, paris agreement, and climate deal.

    Our analysis includes any segment devoted to climate change, as well as any substantial mention (more than one paragraph of a news transcript or a definitive statement by a media figure) about climate change impacts or actions. The study did not include instances in which a non-media figure brought up climate change without being prompted to do so by a media figure unless the media figure subsequently addressed climate change. We defined media figures as hosts, anchors, correspondents, and recurring guest panelists. The study also does not include teasers if they were for segments that aired later on the same program. We acquired time stamps from iQ media and applied them generously for nightly news segments when the overall topic was related to climate change. For instance, if a nightly news segment about an extreme weather event mentioned climate change briefly, the entire segment was counted as climate coverage. However, if a significant portion of the segment was not related to climate change, such as a report on a politician giving a speech about climate change, immigration, voting rights, and the economy, only the portions of the segment that discussed climate change were counted. For the Sunday shows, which often feature wide-ranging discussions on multiple topics, we used only the relevant portion of such conversations. In the text of the report, figures have been rounded to the nearest minute. Because PBS NewsHour is an hour-long show and the other networks’ nightly news programs are half-hour shows, our analysis compared PBS NewsHour's climate coverage to other nightly news programs' coverage in terms of topics covered and number of segments, but not in terms of number of minutes.