New Report Finds CNN and Fox News Weaken Public Understanding Of Climate Science

MSNBC's Climate Coverage Towers Over Other Cable Networks

CNN's Reliable Sources 2/23/14

A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists analyzed major cable network coverage of climate change in 2013, and found that CNN covered the topic even less than Fox News, and that both featured a significant amount of misleading coverage that “weaken[s] the public's ability to understand and grapple with the risks of climate change.” 

The latest media analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found (perhaps unsurprisingly) that Fox News misinformed their audience a great majority of the time when discussing climate change. Meanwhile, CNN devoted a paltry amount of airtime to global warming in 2013, and when they did cover the topic, the network frequently presented the science demonstrating global warming as an issue up for debate by pundits. Here are some of UCS' most significant findings: 

CNN Covered Climate Change Less Than Fox News -- MSNBC Covered More Than Both Combined

UCS found that even though Fox News overwhelmingly misled their audience on climate science, the network still covered the topic more than CNN in 2013. On the primetime weekday shows and weekend morning programs that UCS examined, CNN aired 43 segments on climate change, Fox News aired 50 segments, and MSNBC towered over the two with 133 segments -- more coverage than the CNN and Fox combined:

Union of Concerned Scientists

According to UCS' analysis, MSNBC's coverage was 92 percent accurate; the analysis labeled 8 percent of MSNBC's coverage “inaccurate,” saying these segments overstated the connection between certain extreme weather events and manmade global warming or the severity of sea level rise. 

This Has Become A Recent Trend

When the United Nations' panel of top climate scientists released their latest assessment of the impacts of climate change in March 2014, the report went largely ignored by CNN, which devoted under two minutes of coverage to the report in the two days following its release. Fox News devoted over three times as much airtime to the report as CNN (5 minutes 19 seconds compared to 1 minute 37 seconds) -- but only to mock it or dismiss it:

Media Matters

CNN Presented Science As Up For Politicized Debate

In 2013, CNN hosted eight debate segments on the scientific basis of climate change, according to UCS' analysis -- averaging one debate every month and a half. Two of those debates featured Marc Morano, who is a lawyer with no scientific degrees that runs a climate “skeptic” website on the dime of an oil industry funded organization. In UCS' analysis, false balance debates were the biggest culprit of CNN's misleading coverage.

In February 2014, however, two prominent CNN hosts condemned false balance, and since then CNN has not held a misleading debate on climate change. CNN host Brian Stelter condemned media for presenting climate change as up for debate, providing equal representation for the “fringe.” CNN anchor Carol Costello similarly penned an op-ed stating "[t]here is no debate. Climate change is real. And, yes, we are, in part, to blame." Will CNN hold to their hosts' calls for accurate climate coverage in 2014?

One Show On Fox Was Responsible For Over Half Of Misleading Climate Coverage

UCS found that Fox News' The Five, which airs at 5pm daily and features roundtable discussions and debates, was most to blame for Fox News' poor coverage on global warming:

Of the three major cable news networks, Fox had the lowest per- centage of accurate coverage of climate science, at 28 percent. More than half of the network's misleading coverage (53 percent) was from The Five, where co-hosts often engaged in arguments about established science. If not for this program, Fox would have had an accuracy rating of 45 percent.

Perhaps the worst offender is The Five's Eric Bolling, a former oil trader who frequently displays a shocking level of ignorance on global warming, opting instead to push for more drilling, manufactured controversies, and long-debunked myths, and is more likely to call climate science a scam than to cover it accurately. But Bolling is not alone -- four of the five co-hosts think that “there's no science to global warming.” 

Fox News Misled In Many Different Ways

UCS categorized the different types of misleading statements each channel made. With Fox News, the reality and effects of climate change were most likely to be understated or dismissed, but the misleading debates and disparagement of climate science are frequent as well:

Union of Concerned Scientists

Fox News' misleading coverage is harmful for their audience and for climate scientists. A study from the Yale Project on Climate Communication found that their misleading reports are eroding public trust in scientists. Denigrating scientific institutions such as the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, equating science to simply a liberal opinion or a religion, and presenting contrarians as “objective” experts, are all frequent tactics used on Fox News.

UCS' report suggests that Fox News hosts and guests “differentiate between scientific facts about climate change and political opinions about climate policy.”

The Importance Of Accurate Cable Coverage

UCS outlined why it is so important for cable news to be accurate on climate change -- with such an enormous audience, when cable covers climate change misleadingly, the networks “weaken the public's ability to understand and grapple with the risks of climate change”:

In 2012, the three major cable news networks enjoyed an average audience of 2 million viewers across the entire day. 


[M]isrepresentations of climate science weaken the public's ability to understand and grapple with the risks of climate change and cloud the decisions individuals and their communities face as they consider responses to climate change.