September 20 Global Climate Strike
Ceci Freed and Audrey Bowler / Media Matters 

Research/Study Research/Study

Global climate strikes draw increased coverage across television and print media outlets

MSNBC aired the most segments, while over 70% of top U.S. newspapers featured the strikes on their front pages

On September 20, up to 4 million people worldwide took part in what was most likely the largest rally over climate change ever. Though media outlets across the United States gave varying levels of attention to the strikes, overall coverage was more extensive and thorough than the reporting on the first global climate strike in March.

  • Toplines

    • Morning and nightly news shows on ABC, CBS, NBC as well as PBS Newshour each devoted at least one segment to the climate strikes on September 20.
    • MSNBC aired the most segments on the strikes (22) out of the cable news networks on September 20. Fox News aired 15, and CNN aired 11.
    • Of the top 50 U.S. newspapers by circulation, 36 featured the strikes on their print front pages on September 21. Additionally, 47 out of 50 top newspapers produced original reporting on the strikes.
  • September 20 was a day of global climate protests

  • Up to 4 million people, largely young students, took part in worldwide marches on Friday, September 20, to draw attention to climate change. Reports say it was likely the largest climate protest in history. There were over 2,500 events on all seven continents. In the U.S., over 400,000 protesters took part across over 1,400 locations in all 50 states. The largest of these protests took place in Manhattan, where an estimated 250,000 people turned out. And the message across the world was uniform and simple: Young people are fed up with inaction on climate change.

  • Every morning and nightly news show on broadcast TV devoted time to the strikes

  • On September 20, morning and nightly news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as PBS Newshour, devoted time to covering the strikes. On ABC’s Good Morning America, correspondent Maggie Rulli reported live from London, noting the young ages of the protestors and their goal of sending a “clear message” to world leaders ahead of the U.N. climate summit. On ABC’s World News Tonight, chief national affairs correspondent Tom Llamas reported from New York, where he spoke to walked among the marchers and spoke to a student striker.

    On CBS This Morning, foreign correspondent Imtiaz Tyab reported live from London, where he said protestors told him that “climate change is the defining issue of their time.” The show also cut into live scenes from Sydney and Berlin. On CBS Evening News, Adriana Diaz reported from New York and also mentioned protests in Afghanistan; Tokyo; and Delhi, India.

    NBC’s Today did not have a reporter on site; instead, anchor Craig Melvin briefly mentioned protests in Melbourne, Australia, and upcoming protests scheduled in London and across the United States. Finally, NBC Nightly News reported on the strikes partly by featuring a pretaped interview with climate activist Greta Thunberg, noting that she and “her millions of followers want more than just the world’s attention -- they want action.” 

    PBS Newshour did an 8 ½-minute segment on the climate strikes, featuring Thunberg and other student climate activists including Alexandria Villaseñor, Xiye Bastida, and Vic Barrett.

    It is rare for the broadcast networks to all report on a climate change story the same day. It’s just the third time this year that this happened during nightly news shows; the other two times were in August, when the shows reported on the Amazon wildfires. Additionally, ABC and NBC stepped up their coverage of these climate strikes: during the first big global climate strike, on March 15, NBC’s Today and ABC news shows didn’t air a single segment.

  • MSNBC led the way for cable news coverage

  • MSNBC aired 22 segments on September 20 that were devoted to the climate strikes. Coverage began on MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle, as correspondents reported live on the strikes from New York City, Washington, D.C., and London. The last segment of the night was on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell and featured an interview with Varshini Prakash, the co-founder and executive director of the Sunrise Movement. 

    All in With Chris Hayes aired the most segments (seven), while MSNBC Live with Ali Velshi aired four. Both Hayes and Velshi were reporting live from Washington, D.C., where they were hosting the second day of MSNBC’s Climate Forum 2020. Hayes’ segments mentioned protests in South Africa, Bolivia, and Pakistan. They also featured clips of numerous young climate activists, including one who has been protesting outside of the UN headquarters since December:

  • ALEXANDRIA VILLASEÑOR (CLIMATE ACTIVIST): It’s upsetting that the climate crisis has been put on my generation’s shoulders, where we have to be the ones fighting for a livable planet. And it’s unfair, especially how world leaders didn’t act in time. So now it’s the time for students to go down to the streets and demand that they act on the climate crisis.

  • The MSNBC evening shows MTP Daily and The 11th Hour with Brian Williams did not air a segment on the climate strikes.

  • As usual, Fox’s segments featured personal attacks and climate denial

  • Fox News aired 15 segments on the September 20 climate strikes, starting with a Fox & Friends interview with Republican West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and ending with a report from Los Angeles by correspondent Anita Vogel on Fox News @ Night. The Ingraham Angle aired three segments, the highest number in one show on Fox.

    Similar to its previous treatment of climate change issues, a majority of Fox segments belittled the strikes and downplayed the seriousness of climate change. On Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade sarcastically quipped, “The best thing you can do for climate problems is not go to work or go to school and scream on the grass and make a sign.” Later, on America’s Newsroom, guest host Julie Banderas insinuated that the protesters were too young to think for themselves, asking, “Whose idea was this?”

    The worst offenders, of course, were the hosts of Fox’s prime-time news shows. In The Five’s discussion, under the banner “Climate Craziness,” co-host Greg Gutfeld dismissed the protests as “activism fueled by permission slips,” adding, “It’s fake.” The discussion eventually transitioned to red meat and plastic straws. Later that night, Tucker Carlson accused the strikers of being brainwashed and called the strikes “a coordinated left-wing political protest.” He also brought on climate denier Joe Bastardi to downplay the seriousness of climate change. (Bastardi has also retweeted a tweet implying that Thunberg is a Nazi propaganda prop.) On The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham stated that climate activists “seek the dehumanization of the person.” She also invited on climate denier Gregory Wrightstone, who said that the strike was “rampant … exploitation of children to promote this alarmist agenda.”

  • CNN aired 11 segments on the September 20 climate strike

  • CNN aired 11 segments on the September 20 climate strike, starting with New Day and ending with Cuomo Primetime. CNN Newsroom aired three segments, the highest number among all shows. The highest quality coverage came in the afternoon hours between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m EST. CNN Right Now with Brianna Keilar had reporters in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Seattle.

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  • During the 3 p.m. hour of CNN Newsroom, CNN chief climate correspondent Bill Weir interviewed climate activist Jamie Margolin about her role in organizing the strikes.

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  • Host Jake Tapper went back to Weir in New York City during his show.

    Anderson Cooper 360 was the only prime-time news show on CNN that did not air a segment on the climate strikes. The segment on CNN Tonight was a continuation of the one of Cuomo Primetime, as hosts Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon spoke during the transition of their shows.

    According to a Public Citizen analysis, CNN “had the most robust coverage” during the week of the March 15 climate strikes; it aired six segments over a six-day period. 

    Overall, there was a huge increase in TV news coverage on the latest strike as compared to reporting on the strike in March. This increase can almost certainly be attributed to the grassroots activism of youth climate activists, as they push for climate change to be considered a more serious issue among the world’s decision-makers.

  • Local newspaper coverage: Nearly three-quarters of the top 50 U.S. newspapers featured a climate strike story on their print front pages on September 21

  • Thirty-six of the top 50 U.S. newspapers by circulation featured a climate strike story on the front page of their print editions on September 21. These newspapers were:

    • The Arizona Republic, The Baltimore Sun, The Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland), the Hartford Courant, The Dallas Morning News, The Denver Post, The Columbus Dispatch, the Detroit Free Press, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Kansas City Star, the Los Angeles Times, The Mercury News, the San Antonio Express-News, The Star-Ledger (Newark), the New York Daily News, The New York Times, The Orange County Register, the Omaha World-Herald, The Oregonian, the Orlando Sentinel, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Sacramento Bee, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Seattle Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Honolulu Star Advertiser, the  Star Tribune (Minneapolis), the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Sun Sentinel (South Florida), the Chicago Sun-Times, the Tampa Bay Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.

    At least two newspapers -- The Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times -- featured the protests on their print front pages on September 20 as well.

    Eight of the top 50 newspapers did not feature the protests on the front pages of their September 21 print editions:

    • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, The Buffalo News, the Houston Chronicle, The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Indianapolis Star, New York Post, and The St. Paul Pioneer Press.

    There were climate strikes in all eight cities that these newspapers represent. 

    The remaining six newspapers either don’t have a print Saturday edition or are not featured in the Newseum’s “Today’s Front Pages” section. These newspapers are Puerto Rico’s El Nuevo Dia, MLive (Michigan), Newsday (New York City), The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk), The Post-Standard (Syracuse), and USA Today.

    Additionally, 47 of the top 50 U.S. newspapers produced independent reporting on the climate strikes rather than simply reprinting Associated Press stories on the strikes. The breadth and scope of the coverage varied across the U.S. The Baltimore Sun, for example, had live updates of strikes happening in Baltimore and Annapolis. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel followed a former local student as she participated in the New York City strike, and the St. Louis Dispatch wrote up a story and produced a photo gallery of the strikes. Finally, the Houston Chronicle reported that Houston students tied the destruction wrought by Tropical Storm Imelda into their climate protest.

    Only the Orlando Sentinel, the San Antonio Express-News, and the Tampa Bay Times ran only AP reprints of the climate strike and no original reporting. The Tampa Bay Times did, however, produce a video of a protest in nearby St. Petersburg.

    According to the March Public Citizen analysis, only half of the top 50 U.S. newspapers even mentioned the March 15 climate strike.

  • Methodology

    Media Matters searched iQ media, Nexis, and Snapstream for the terms climate or warming as well as strike, protest, kid, student, young, youth or activists to find television segments about the September 20 climate strikes. For broadcast news, we looked at morning and nightly news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as PBS Newshour on September 20. For cable news, we reviewed all shows between the hours of 6 a.m. and midnight on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC on September 20. Media Matters used Pew Research Center’s “State of the News Media Methodology” to determine the top 50 U.S. newspapers. A Google site search was conducted to find newspapers articles about the climate strikes. Media Matters used the Newseum’s “Today’s Front Pages” page to find the newspapers that featured the climate strikes on their print front pages on September 21.