During his speech at the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner on April 25, President Obama invited comedian Keegan-Michael Key to reprise the Comedy Central bit in which Key plays Luther, Obama's “anger translator.” What followed was highly amusing -- but also quite revealing of the President's frustration with how the media covers climate change.
As he spoke to an audience of thousands of journalists, media executives, politicians, and celebrities, Obama began the sketch by emphasizing that “we count on the press to shed light on the most important issues of the day.” That line provided an opening for Luther to piercingly mock Fox News' fearmongering that “Sharia law is coming to Cleveland” and CNN's “wall-to-wall Ebola coverage.” He even landed a few good one-liners about Ted Cruz and Hilary Clinton as they pursue contributions for their presidential campaigns.
But the skit took a noticeable turn when Obama told the media-heavy crowd that “we do need to stay focused on some big challenges, like climate change.” After Luther joked that drought conditions have made California “look like a trailer for the new Mad Max movie up in there," it quickly became apparent that Obama needed no assistance from his anger translator to spell out how the media and climate change deniers in Congress are failing to take this threat seriously:
OBAMA: I mean, look at what's happening right now. Every serious scientist says we need to act. The Pentagon says it's a national security risk. Miami floods on a sunny day and instead of doing anything about it, we have elected officials throwing snowballs in the Senate.
LUTHER: Okay, Mr. President. Okay, I think they've got it, bro.
OBAMA: It is crazy! What about our kids! What kind of stupid, short-sighted, irresponsible, bull--
Luther cut Obama off before he engaged in any presidential profanity, but the President had already gotten his point across. As a less angry Obama put it in June 2014, “the media doesn't spend a lot of time covering climate change and letting average Americans know how it could impact our future.”
The President has good reason to be upset. While climate change coverage on the major broadcast networks increased last year, the networks still hosted too many climate science deniers and not enough scientists. The problem is even more pronounced when it comes to climate-fueled extreme weather events like the California drought and this winter's major Northeast snowstorms, which are rarely covered in a climate change context.
Perhaps the President could take some solace in the fact that TV weather forecasters are increasingly accepting climate science and expressing a willingness to talk to their audiences about it. But then again, when he went to the Florida Everglades on Earth Day to announce new steps to protect public lands and local economies from the impacts of climate change -- and to help farmers and ranchers reduce their greenhouse gas emissions -- the networks' nightly news programs didn't consider it a news-worthy event.* If climate change can't even make the news on Earth Day, it's no wonder the issue receives inadequate coverage the rest of the year.
On one tuxedo-clad evening, Obama's climate change remarks garnered hearty laughter and applause from the White House press corps. Now let's hope that a healthy dose of presidential humor will begin to convince them to cover climate change with the seriousness it deserves.
Watch President Obama's climate change remarks at the 2015 White House Correspondents' Dinner here:
*Based on a Nexis search of ABC, CBS, and NBC transcripts for “Obama and (climate change or global warming)” on April 22, 2015.