CNN and Fox News devoted massive coverage to the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, but both networks omitted any mention of climate change in their reporting despite its likely role in the extreme nature and devastation of the event.
Though it is difficult to determine just how much of Sandy's unprecedented destruction can be directly linked to climate change, climate scientists agree that higher tides produced by global warming exacerbated flooding from the storm, and hurricane severity is expected to increase as sea levels continue to rise. Unlike Fox and CNN, several MSNBC segments about the Sandy anniversary mentioned climate change. But overall, just under 8 percent of segments on the top cable news networks mentioned climate change in their anniversary coverage.
Fox News and CNN devoted approximately 52 minutes and 54 minutes, respectively, to Sandy coverage on its anniversary. Coverage centered around the devastating impacts of the storm, the subsequent complications with disaster relief funding, and efforts to rebuild the damaged coastal areas and prepare for the next natural disaster. Missing from their coverage, however, was climate change's role in worsening the impact of storms like Sandy and the fact that climate change could drastically affect coastal communities in the future.
During a segment on Fox News' Happening Now, meteorologist Janice Dean warned that “another Hurricane Sandy” could happen again “in the next decade or so” as we are heading into “an active period in terms of tropical development.” She dissected the “anatomy” of Sandy, citing the angle of the storm, the storm's unnatural width, and the high tide as key factors for the storm system's extreme damage, but left out that climate change has triggered rising sea levels.
CNN's Indra Petersons also discussed the many factors that contributed to Sandy's impacts -- but excluded climate change-caused sea level rise.
In contrast to CNN and Fox, MSNBC mentioned climate change in 22 percent of its coverage on Sandy and its aftermath. Most notably, MSNBC host Chris Hayes devoted nearly one-quarter of his October 29 show, All In With Chris Hayes, to linking the ferocity of Sandy to manmade climate change and highlighting the role it plays in perpetuating socio-economic disparities in the United States. During the show, Hayes discussed the urgent need to address climate change after Sandy, and said that climate change and growing inequalities pose devastating risks for the nation and “are going to rip our social contract apart” if the two issues remain unchecked:
HAYES: There are two pillar central truths about America in the 21st century. One, it is unequal and it is getting more unequal. And two, the changing climate is going to produce more extreme weather and more crises. When you put those together, unless you get very serious very quickly, those two trends are going to rip our social contract apart. Climate change and inequality are two sides of the same coin, and we need to be addressing them together.
Sea level rise due to climate change worsened Sandy's impacts, according to the American Meteorological Society's study on the role of climate change in 2012's extreme weather events. And as sea level continues to rise while the planet warms, scientists predict that storms of extreme intensity will become more frequent and “events of less and less severity... will produce similar impacts.” Coastal communities, in particular, face a “looming [sea level rise] crisis” and an “increased frequency of Sandy-like inundation disasters in the coming decades along the mid-Atlantic and elsewhere.”
Methodology: We searched an internal video archive for “sandy,” “hurricane,” and “superstorm” for cable news outlets MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN on October 29, 2013. We included all segments and mentions over 10 seconds to calculate total airtime.