News outlets are reporting that President Donald Trump has decided to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. Trump’s reported decision, as well as months of media speculation about whether or not he would remain in the deal, put into stark relief the failure of major TV networks to discuss the climate implications of a Trump presidency during the election campaign.
According to Axios and The New York Times, Trump has decided to exit the Paris agreement, in which all but two of the world’s countries submitted pledges to curb their greenhouse gas emissions in order to combat climate change. Following the news reports, Trump tweeted that he would issue his announcement on the matter “over the next few days.”
Regardless of when Trump makes his announcement, this alarming development serves as a reminder that major news networks failed to discuss how a Trump presidency would affect climate change and the Paris agreement prior to the election.
Media Matters’ latest annual study examining the broadcast networks’ coverage of climate change found that in 2016, evening newscasts and Sunday shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC as well as Fox News Sunday did not air a single segment informing viewers of what to expect on climate change and climate-related policies or issues -- including the Paris agreement -- under a Trump or Hillary Clinton administration. This failure was made all the more inexplicable by the fact that Trump had pledged to cancel or renegotiate the agreement during his campaign and that polls conducted prior to the election showed that large majorities of Americans supported the Paris accord.
PBS NewsHour was an exception to this trend, airing two segments before the election that provided much-needed discussion about what a Clinton or Trump presidency would mean for the Paris agreement and climate policy broadly. A September 7, 2016, segment featured a discussion with The New York Times’ Coral Davenport and The Washington Post’s Chris Mooney about Trump’s pledge to cancel the Paris accord. And a September 22 segment explored “what the early days of a Trump presidency might look like” and featured Judy Woodruff interviewing Evan Osnos of The New Yorker about whether Trump would renounce the Paris climate agreement.
The major networks did eventually devote a significant amount of coverage to the climate impacts of a Trump presidency in 2016, airing 25 segments on the topic after the election. And TV networks have been covering the Paris agreement this week, just as they covered Trump’s rollback of former President Barack Obama’s main climate policies in March; in both cases, it’s too little much too late.