NBC's Meet the Press dedicated its last episode of 2018 entirely to climate change -- an unprecedented occurrence on a major Sunday morning political talk show. “We're not going to debate climate change, the existence of it,” host Chuck Todd said at the start of the December 30 episode. “We're not going to give time to climate deniers. The science is settled, even if political opinion is not.” His guests included NASA climate scientist Kate Marvel and politicians from both sides of the aisle who have advocated climate action, such as outgoing California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and outgoing Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL).
But it took Meet the Press, which bills itself as “the longest-running show in television history,” an awfully long time to give climate change this much attention. For years before this episode, Meet the Press lagged behind the other Sunday shows in coverage of climate change -- even though the other shows have not been doing such a hot job themselves.
Meet the Press addressed climate change in only one other episode in 2018, and it caught a lot of flak for featuring climate denier Danielle Pletka of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute making the ridiculous claim that global temperatures have been dropping. The fact-checking website PolitiFact determined that Pletka's statement was "false." Media figures and politicians castigated Todd for allowing such drivel on the air, including ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd, who tweeted, “Lord have mercy. ... Chuck, next time why don’t you have folks on who argue the world is flat. This is crazy. Balance shouldn’t be the goal, truth should.”
Altogether in 2018, Meet the Press discussed climate change in two episodes -- fewer than ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and Fox News Sunday, and tied for last place with CNN's State of the Union.
In 2017, Meet the Press also addressed climate change in just two episodes, and it had the last-place spot all to itself. The other four major Sunday shows each discussed climate change in at least four episodes -- twice as many as NBC's show.
The year 2016 was even worse. Todd brought up the topic of climate change just once that year on Meet the Press, again tying for last place among Sunday shows. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who was then running for the Democratic presidential nomination, mentioned climate change numerous times during his appearances on the show in 2016, but Todd didn't engage on the topic. During one such interview, Sanders began talking about climate change and Todd actually interrupted him to change the subject, saying, “Senator, right. But I want to go back to the other point.”
Todd and Meet the Press deserve credit for finally giving serious coverage to this most serious of challenges. The other Sunday shows should follow suit.
But this needs to represent the start of a new trend of substantive climate change coverage that's sustained throughout the year. The climate crisis deserves to be addressed every week in discussions with informed guests who understand the scale of the problem and the solutions that could help keep it in check. If Todd goes back to avoiding the topic and the Meet the Press climate episode ends up being a one-off, aired over the winter holidays when viewership was likely low, then it will look like a cynical ploy to deflect criticism over the Pletka debacle. We're hoping Todd and Meet the Press are turning over a new leaf, and we'll be watching closely in 2019 to find out.