A Media Matters analysis found that network nightly news coverage of climate change was tepid in 2013, despite growing scientific evidence that global warming is getting worse. By contrast, PBS aired nearly three times as much climate coverage as ABC World News, the worst offender.
PBS NewsHour aired more news coverage about climate change and interviewed more scientists on the issue than any other evening network news program in 2013. The scale and scope of coverage demonstrated the program's commitment to reporting on global warming, a pattern Media Matters first identified in 2012. The program broadcast 35 stories that at least mentioned climate change, far more than what ABC World News, NBC Nightly News or CBS Evening News chose to give its audiences. By comparison, the three other network nightly news programs aired a combined total of 49 stories that at least mentioned global warming.
Of its 35 stories, PBS NewsHour devoted 20 segments to climate change. While it should be noted that PBS NewsHour does air a one-hour nightly newscast, as opposed to a 30-minute broadcast as do ABC, CBS and NBC, the priority that PBS places on climate change coverage is striking and something that the latter networks should note. For example, ABC World News aired only eight stories that touched on climate change, the fewest among the network nightly news shows. According to a content analysis by the Tyndall Report, ABC World News has been increasingly “Disney[fied],” covering “infotainment” rather than hard news such as climate change -- a charge ABC disputes.
To its credit, competitor NBC Nightly News improved its climate change coverage, offering four times as many segments about global warming in 2013 than in 2012. For PBS NewsHour, its climate coverage was comparable to what the program produced the previous year. (See below for 2012 data about network nightly news coverage of climate change.)
Mounting evidence that climate change is taking hold became more difficult to ignore in 2013. The world's most respected climate scientists released a report that concluded with 95 percent certainty that human activity is the “dominant cause” of global warming. President Barack Obama called for action to address climate change as near-record floodwaters devastated the Midwest and wildfires swept the western United States.
Scientific perspectives about climate change received greater attention on PBS NewsHour than any other network evening news show in 2013, similar to what was seen during the previous year. Overall, 23 scientists were interviewed for stories about global warming on PBS NewsHour, far more than the 12 politicians and five media figures who PBS NewsHour interviewed on this topic. Part of this coverage included an in-depth series that examined the effects of climate change. The stories ranged from how ocean acidification is destroying the oyster population on the Pacific Northwest to how global warming is altering snowfall in the Rocky Mountains, and often relied on scientists to help make sense of a complex issue.
Again, NBC Nightly News gave greater airtime to scientists on the issue of global warming in 2013 than in 2012, interviewing 20 scientists. By contrast, ABC World News only interviewed two scientists about climate change out of all of its 2013 coverage.
This report analyzes news coverage of “climate change” and “global warming” that aired on PBS NewsHour, ABC World News, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News between January 1, 2013, and December 31, 2013. Our analysis includes any segment devoted to climate change, as well as any substantial mention (more than one paragraph of a news transcript and/or or a definitive statement about climate change). Transcripts from Nexis and Media Matters' internal video archives, as well as the Internet Archive online database, were used to collect these stories.