When a fire broke out at the Notre Dame Cathedral earlier this year, the tragic event garnered wall-to-wall coverage on cable news outlets. But as a record number of wildfires burn through Brazil’s Amazon rainforest -- an event that will have dire consequences for the global environment -- the story is receiving significantly less attention and struggling to break through the media cycle.
On April 15, a structure fire broke out in the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. The resulting cable news coverage was practically nonstop, with over 100 combined cable news segments that included mentions of the fire on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News on the day of and the day after the fire, according to an analysis using Media Matters’ internal database, and coverage continued throughout the week.
The current fires raging in the Amazon aren’t garnering anywhere near the same level of coverage on cable news, despite the effects the wildfires will have on the global environment.
Brazil’s annual dry “fire” season stretches from August to November; however, according to reports from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, satellite images have shown an 84% increase in fires in 2019 compared to the same time period in 2018. On August 19, the city of São Paulo, which is 1,700 miles away from the Amazon rainforest, experienced blackouts caused by smoke from the fires. On the morning of August 21, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro took to Facebook Live to baselessly blame nongovernmental organizations for starting the fires. In reality, experts say the fires are made worse by Bolsonaro’s deforestation policies.
As noted in The Washington Post, the Amazon “serves as the lungs of the planet by taking in carbon dioxide,” and the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service is warning that “the fires have led to a clear spike in carbon monoxide emissions as well as planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions, posing a threat to human health and aggravating global warming.”
Despite the serious implications, the Amazon fires haven’t gotten even close to the amount of coverage Notre Dame’s fire received. So far, coverage has peaked at 11 segments that mention the fires per day on cable news networks combined -- as opposed to around 150 segments a day that mentioned the cathedral fire during the peak of Notre Dame coverage -- according to Media Matters’ internal database. Additionally, the coverage has often come via short headline reads or passing mentions rather than thorough, in-depth analysis about the events and global consequences.
The disparity in coverage is glaring and raises serious questions about cable news priorities when it comes to covering our environment.
Media Matters’ internal database includes weekday cable news programming on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC between the hours of 6 a.m. and midnight. Segments are coded in near-real time by analysts for pertinent information. We searched our database for segments during the week of April 15 that included “Notre Dame” in the segment notes and segments during the week of August 18 that included “Amazon” in the segment notes.