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How broadcast news programs covered climate and the 2024 election in 2023 — and what coverage should include going forward

In 2023, broadcast TV news coverage of climate change decreased by 25% from the previous year, and discussion of climate change within the context of the 2024 election appeared in just a handful of segments on broadcast Sunday morning political shows and on PBS’ nightly news program, NewsHour. Though a few stand-out segments demonstrated how news networks might better incorporate climate coverage into their election reporting and vice versa, there was an overall dearth of examples giving these issues the attention they deserve. Far more discussion will be needed in order to consistently cover the high stakes for climate in the outcome of the 2024 election.

Here are five things we’ve learned from the coverage of climate change and the 2024 election so far:

  • Climate change was featured in the first Republican presidential primary debate — yet most TV news ignored it

    The September 3, 2023, episode of ABC’s This Week was the only broadcast Sunday morning political program to rebut the climate denial espoused by Republican presidential candidates during the first Republican primary debate on August 23.

    ABC News’ chief meteorologist and chief climate correspondent Ginger Zee led a 6-minute segment focused on discussion of climate change during the first Republican primary debate and its implications for the 2024 presidential race, highlighting the party's denial and skepticism in the face of scientific consensus on human-induced climate change.

    PBS NewsHour also addressed the GOP candidates’ climate denial in an August 25 segment assessing the issues shaping the Republican race. After playing a clip of former candidate Vivek Ramaswamy claiming that the “climate change agenda is a hoax,” anchor Geoff Bennett corrected his statement, saying, “Climate change — it’s settled science.” He then posed this question to his guests, journalist Sarah Smarsh and conservative columnist Gary Abernathy: “What should we make of the varied and evolving ways that Republicans are trying to address climate change?”    

    As coverage turns to the general election, TV news should not miss these clear opportunities to correct climate misinformation while also discussing the two parties' vastly different approaches to the climate crisis. 

  • TV news has framed climate change as a young voter issue — but climate change impacts us all

    At least three segments that discussed climate within the context of the upcoming election seemed to suggest that young people are the only voters concerned about a candidate's position on the climate crisis.

    On the September 7, 2023, edition of PBS’ NewsHour, in an interview with then-candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, anchor Amna Nawaz remarked: “You were the only one [on the debate stage] to raise your hand when the candidates were asked if you believe that human behavior is causing climate change, which, as you know, is a huge issue for younger voters.”

    On the August 25 edition of NewsHour, anchor Geoff Bennett introduced a discussion on climate and the election by pointing out that climate change is “a top issue for young voters, both Democratic and Republican — and Independent.”

    On the September 3 edition of ABC’s This Week, Frank Luntz, one of the architects behind the early 2000s Republican messaging campaign to cast doubt on climate science, concluded: “Make no mistake. For voters under age 30, the environment is one of their top two or three issues. It may not matter to some in their 60s and 70s, but it absolutely matters to that first and second-time voter, and that's where Democrats have the advantage.”

    During a segment on ABC’s This Week from July 9, guest Rachael Bade, a journalist with Politico, emphasized that responding to the climate crisis is increasingly appealing to “most voters”:

  • They see clips like that of Donald Trump sort of dismissing climate change, and they literally salivate at the opportunity of running against him. I mean, Biden has, obviously, legislation that he can tout on the campaign trail saying, “Look, Democrats have tried to do something about this. There's more work to be done, but elect Democrats,” because if you do look at the polls, even though there is a crop of Republicans who Trump is catering to — who don't believe in climate change — overall the polling shows that most voters increasingly do believe it's real and that it needs to be addressed.

  • Along with pointing out that young voters across all ideologies see climate as a top election issue, TV news should stress the growing bipartisan concern polls show around climate change and the widespread support for actions to address it, including from groups that represent older Americans. A new study found that voters' opinions on climate change have had huge impacts on recent elections, even “concluding that the climate issue very likely cost Republicans the 2020 election, all else equal.”

  • PBS discussed Republican resistance to decarbonization efforts in the context of financial contributions from fossil fuel companies — but it shouldn’t be alone in following the money

    Only one segment, which appeared on PBS’ NewsHour, linked Republican opposition to climate action to candidates’ dependence on contributions from Big Polluters. During the August 4, 2023, edition of NewsHour, a segment aired on the conspicuous lack of climate change discussion on the Republican campaign trail despite a summer of relentless and deadly climate-fueled events. Anchor William Brangham explained: “Critics argue a main reason why Republicans resist any limits on fossil fuels is campaign money. According to the money tracking group Open Secrets, the top 20 oil, coal, and gas donors gave out over $80 million in campaign contributions in the last two years. That money went almost exclusively to Republicans and conservative groups.”

     Along with exposing the role that polluters’ financial contributions play in the development of climate policy, TV news should also incorporate into their reporting the role the fossil fuel industry could play in influencing the outcome of the 2024 presidential election through ads that attack and misrepresent Biden’s climate policies.

  • Few segments mentioned candidates’ stances on climate change in the context of extreme weather events

    On the final day of the Republican national convention in 2020, Hurricane Laura landed in Louisiana as the most powerful hurricane to hit the state in more than 150 years. But despite the concurrence of these two events, TV news did not connect the GOP’s climate denial platform with the climate-fueled event.

    A few segments in 2023 offered examples for how to remedy this glaring disconnect.

    PBS contrasted the summer of deadly extreme weather events with the absence of climate change discussion on the Republican presidential campaign trail in its August 4, 2023, edition of NewsHour, reporting, “This summer, smoke from Canadian wildfires cast a dystopian yellow haze over U.S. cities. The drought-stricken Colorado River forced seven Southwestern states to consider drastic water cuts. A blistering heat wave punished millions of Americans. The disparate impacts of our warming world were impossible to miss, but out on the campaign trail, Republican candidates are talking about everything but climate change.”

    After showing a clip of Trump denying the risks of sea-level rise because it “creates more beachfront property,” This Week’s Martha Raddatz pointed out on the July 9 edition of the show that his comments “came in the middle of a historic global heat wave in which the Earth reached its hottest day ever recorded three days in a row.”

    During the July 23 episode of This Week, Raddatz asked Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state to comment on candidates like Trump who “mock the idea of climate change.” Inslee responded, “Well, we can't wait for Donald Trump to figure this out. … People are coming around to this very, very rapidly because their homes are burning down, they're choking on smoke from the Canadian fires. When Ron DeSantis wants to go swimming, he can't because the water's like a sauna — like a hot tub — off his beaches.”

    In the same episode, ABC’s Ginger Zee concluded a segment on how climate-fueled extreme weather events are propelling calls for climate action by referencing both the election and Trump’s climate denial: “But the 2024 presidential election — raising questions about how big a priority climate will continue to be on the national stage. Climate scientists agree that, politics aside, business as usual will be a disaster for the climate.”

    The vast majority of Americans have already experienced extreme weather — and climate scientists say 2024 is likely to be even more extreme. TV news should strive to show the relationship between extreme weather events, climate change, and the candidates’ platforms. 

  • TV news is not clearly defining what’s at stake for the climate in the outcome of the 2024 election

    In the above example from ABC’s This Week, Ginger Zee alluded to what a Trump presidency could mean for the climate. On the December 31, 2023, edition of Face The Nation, CBS national correspondent Ben Tracy laid out the matter more explicitly:

  • This race for the White House, if you care about climate issues, is going to be a very important one. You have the Biden administration, which has passed all of these climate initiatives. But then you also have former President Trump, who has campaigned on the idea of drilling more on federal land. He says, “Drill drill drill.” He has called the transition to electric vehicles “the transition to hell.” So he has very strong opinions about these things, and you also have other Republican candidates who are campaigning on repealing some of the Biden administration’s landmark climate legislation.

  • If another Trump presidency is, as argued by The Atlantic, “an existential threat to America and to the ideas that animate it,” it is also a threat to our planet.  This point has been well made by climate scientists and beat reporters, but has been largely ignored by corporate media. TV News must start clearly communicating what the differences between a Biden presidency and a Trump presidency would mean for our climate. For example, a new analysis by Carbon Brief found that another Trump presidency “could lead to an additional 4bn tonnes of US emissions by 2030 compared with Joe Biden’s plans,” which could further “cause global climate damages worth more than $900bn.”

    TV news networks should continue to point out Trump's record on climate issues, including his climate denial and his plans to roll back the progress that has been made on the issue, and should show clearly how his presidency would mean pushing us further toward irreversible climate disaster.