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Major broadcast networks mentioned climate change in just 2 percent of wildfire reports, ignoring science that links climate change to more intense fires
As wildfires raged in the Western U.S. this summer, the major broadcast TV networks largely failed to explain how climate change influences such fires, mentioning climate change in less than 2 percent of their reports on the fires. Media Matters analysis of coverage on the networks’ morning and evening news shows found that ABC made no mention at all of climate change during its 172 segments reporting on wildfires, while CBS brought up climate change in only six of its 183 segments that mentioned wildfires, and NBC discussed climate change in only three of its 116 wildfire segments.
Wildfires have ravaged huge swaths of the Western U.S. this year. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, fires had burned over 7.7 million acres of land as of September 28 -- nearly 1.8 million acres more than the 10-year year-to-date average from 2008-2017. The most destructive wildfires blazed in California, and they were some of the worst on record. The Ranch Fire, part of the massive Mendocino Complex, in August became the largest single fire in California history, while the Carr Fire was one of the deadliest, killing seven people. Five of the 10 most destructive fires in the state’s history happened in just the last three years. The 2018 wildfire season is still ongoing, with blazes active in 12 states.
Destructive wildfires have not been limited to the U.S. -- they also burned through parts of Europe this summer. In Greece, nearly 100 people were killed by wildfires outside of Athens. In Sweden, scorching temperatures contributed to over 50 fires, including some inside the Arctic Circle, and forced evacuations. As of late July, the number of European fires in 2018 was up 40 percent on average.
Numerous scientific studies have found that human-caused climate change has exacerbated both the frequency and duration of wildfires. Other variables affected by climate change, such as extreme heat and drought, are also increasing the risk for longer and more intense wildfires. “To dismiss the role of climate change on these fires is simply incorrect,” Michael F. Wehner, a senior staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told The New York Times. And Noah Diffenbaugh, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford University, told The Independent in July that the longer fire season in California is related to climate change:
What we’re seeing over the last few years in terms of the wildfire season in California … [is] very consistent with the historical trends in terms of increasing temperatures, increasing dryness, and increasing wildfire risk. They’re also very consistent with what we can expect in the future as global warming continues.
California’s recent Climate Change Assessment estimated that the average acreage burned across the state annually will rise by 77 percent by the end of the century. Some firefighters, including the director of California's firefighting department, have also pointed to climate change as a factor making the blazes worse.
The broadcast networks devoted a lot of coverage to wildfires this summer, but very little of it discussed climate change. A Media Matters analysis of the ABC, CBS, and NBC morning and evening news shows over the summer, from June 21 to September 21, showed that out of 471 segments discussing the wildfires, only nine of them, or 1.9 percent, mentioned climate change.
ABC completely ignored climate change during its wildfire coverage. ABC aired a total of 172 segments that discussed wildfires on its morning and evening news shows this summer, including 89 news reports or in-depth segments, 57 weather reports, and 26 news headline rundowns -- and not one of them mentioned climate change. That makes ABC the worst-performing network at incorporating climate change into its reporting on the fires, which is in line with the network's recent history. In June, ABC was the only major broadcast network to make no mention of climate change in relation to the deadly heat wave that affected much of the U.S. And in August, ABC was the only major network that did not mention climate change during its coverage of Hurricane Florence, just as it failed to mention climate change during coverage of Hurricane Harvey last year.
CBS and NBC mentioned climate change in roughly 3 percent of their segments on wildfires. CBS' morning and evening news shows aired a total of 183 segments reporting on wildfires, including 84 news reports or in-depth segments, 14 weather reports, and 85 news headline rundowns. Only six of the 183, or 3.3 percent, mentioned climate change. NBC ran a total of 116 wildfire segments, of which 73 were news reports or in-depth segments, 22 were weather reports, and 21 were news headline rundowns. Only three of the 116, or 2.6 percent, included discussion of climate change.
Sunday shows on the major broadcast networks made no mention of the wildfires. Thirty-eight combined episodes of ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press aired from June 21 to September 21, and not one of them mentioned the wildfires, let alone the ways that climate change influences such fires. This is sadly consistent with the Sunday shows' lack of coverage of past disasters exacerbated by climate change. Last year, the weekend after Hurricane Maria made landfall and knocked out power to 3.5 million Americans, the five major Sunday political talk shows dedicated less than one minute to coverage of the storm and its effects.
Networks' climate change mentions in wildfire coverage almost all occurred in August, more than a month after their summer coverage of wildfires began in earnest. CBS aired its first wildfire segment of the summer on June 24, but it didn't mention climate change in such a segment until August 1 -- over one month later. NBC ran its first summer wildfire segment on June 25, but didn't incorporate climate change into any such segments until July 28. By that point, the Carr Fire had already killed five people, and by August 1, 16 of the largest wildfires in California were burning an area larger than Los Angeles.
CBS' first mentions of climate change in the context of wildfires were brief and not particularly informative. The August 1 episodes of CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News featured Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman saying, “I don't care where you stand on your opinion of global warming. There's something changing, and we're seeing fires that have never happened in this area before.” Mendocino County was the site of the massive Mendocino Complex fire, which was not fully contained until September 18.
CBS’ next mentions of climate change as it relates to wildfires occured on the August 4 episodes of CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News. Both shows aired segments on a European heat wave that featured Time magazine climate reporter Justin Worland, who said, “Human fingerprints are all over this particular heat wave.” The segments reported that wildfires in Europe were being fueled by hot and dry conditions, blaming the region's “unusually hot air on warming Arctic temperatures due to greenhouse gases.”
CBS' other mentions of climate change in wildfire segments came during the August 7 episode of CBS This Morning. Reporter John Blackstone noted President Donald Trump’s inaccurate claim that wildfires were worsened by California’s water policy, and contrasted it with the view from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection that “the true problem is climate change.” Later on in the episode, anchor Gayle King pointed out that 15 of the 20 largest fires in California have happened since 2000, and noted, "State fire officials say that is a direct result of climate change."
Two of NBC’s wildfire reports that incorporated climate change featured climate scientist Michael Mann, who was interviewed for segments that aired on August 7 and August 8. On the August 7 episode of NBC Nightly News, Mann said, “You take epic drought, you combine it with high temperatures, you've got all the ingredients for unprecedented wildfires”:
PBS NewsHour incorporated climate change into 16 percent of its wildfire coverage. Public broadcaster PBS has typically produced more quality coverage of climate change than its corporate counterparts, and its reporting this summer continued that trend. Out of 25 segments about the wildfires that aired on PBS NewsHour on weekdays from June 21 through September 21, four discussed climate change. On the July 27 episode of NewsHour, Columbia University bioclimatologist Park Williams noted that forests are “where we really see a strong link between climate change and increased fire.” On August 7, correspondent Nick Schifrin said, “Hotter weather attributed to climate change drives more severe conditions that authorities say residents cannot ignore.”
And on August 6, NewsHour devoted almost six and a half minutes to discussing how climate change makes wildfires more extreme, including more than four minutes interviewing Mann on the topic. This was the most in-depth segment on climate change and wildfires on any broadcast network:
Newspapers did better than corporate broadcasters at connecting wildfires to climate change, but they still fell short, Public Citizen found. A recent report by the nonprofit group Public Citizen analyzed both newspaper and TV coverage of the wildfires during 15 days this summer, from July 23 to August 7. It found that less than 13 percent of wildfire articles in the 50 highest-circulation U.S. newspapers mentioned climate change. The New York Times, The Sacramento Bee, and the Los Angeles Times published the most articles connecting climate change and the wildfires.
A local TV network showed the right way to weave climate change into wildfire coverage. Sometimes local TV stations -- whose viewers are more likely to be immediately affected by fires -- do a better job of reporting on the climate/wildfire connection than national networks. For example, Salt Lake City’s ABC affiliate KTVX aired a segment on its August 9 Good Morning Utah show about how climate change affects the length of wildfire season:
A recent poll points to the need for more and better media coverage of climate change. A survey conducted by Quinnipiac University in mid-August found that a slim majority of American voters believed climate change was worsening the California wildfires. But that means almost half of voters didn't understand the connection -- including 71 percent of Republicans. The media can help fill that knowledge gap.
Much has already been said this year about the need for journalists to report on how climate change influences extreme weather events like wildfires. But we also need outlets to discuss responses and solutions to the climate crisis, so that Americans understand the need to mobilize as a society to fight climate change and shift quickly to clean energy.
Media Matters searched Nexis and iQ Media for broadcast network TV news segments that covered wildfires using the search terms wildfire(s) or fire(s), and then we searched within those segments for mentions of climate change or global warming or greenhouse gas(es). Our analysis covered morning news shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today), nightly news shows (ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News, plus weekday episodes of PBS NewsHour), and Sunday morning shows (ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, and NBC’s Meet the Press) from June 21 through September 21.
News headline rundowns included mentions of the wildfires within announcements of top stories of the day. Weather reports included mentions of the wildfires within a meteorologist’s report or a general discussion of weather. We did not count teasers or rebroadcasts.
ABC did not mention climate at all during Florence, while CBS, PBS, CNN, and MSNBC did worse than last year during Harvey
A Media Matters analysis of Hurricane Florence broadcast news coverage from September 7-19 found that ABC failed to air a single segment that mentioned the links between climate change and hurricanes like Florence, while NBC aired one segment and CBS aired two. PBS NewsHour also aired two. A review of weekday, prime-time coverage of Florence on the three major cable news networks found that MSNBC ran four segments that mentioned climate change in the context of hurricanes, and CNN ran two. Fox aired six segments, but these either downplayed or outright dismissed the link between climate change and hurricanes. Overall, coverage was down from a year ago: The majority of the networks mentioned the connections between hurricanes and climate change in fewer segments than they did while covering Hurricane Harvey last year.
After making landfall over North Carolina on September 14, Hurricane Florence dumped record amounts of rainfall over the region. Swansboro, N.C., had over 30 inches of rain, which broke the previous record of 24 inches set by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. South Carolina’s record for most rain in a single spot was also broken, as over 18 inches of rain fell in Marion. Additionally, Florence brought tides to record levels. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the tide gauge at Wrightsville Beach, N.C., surged to more than four feet above normal, breaking the previous record by over a foot.
At least 44 deaths have been attributed to Florence. The storm unleashed significant flooding that has affected thousands of people, with several river gauges either near or above record levels. Florence has created a massive environmental crisis as well -- hog waste and coal ash have leaked into flood waters, and Duke Energy now fears that coal ash may be leaking into the Cape Fear River, which is the source of drinking water for more than 60,000 people. And as with most hurricanes, lower-income and minority communities are suffering the brunt of its destruction.
Warming oceans, a more rapidly warming arctic, melting ice sheets are all contributing in various way to conditions like what we’re observing now. ... It’s favoring slow moving weather patterns, more intense tropical storms and heavier downpours. And they’re all more likely as we continue to warm the Earth.
Regarding heavier downpours, there is a growing body of work linking wetter storms to climate change. NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory notes, “Tropical cyclone rainfall rates will likely increase in the future due to anthropogenic warming and accompanying increase in atmospheric moisture content.” In the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s record-breaking rainfall, two studies concluded that climate change increased the amount of rainfall that Harvey dumped by estimates of 15 percent and 38 percent, respectively. Before Florence made landfall, a first of its kind pre-attribution study estimated that the storm's “rainfall will be significantly increased by over 50% in the heaviest precipitating parts of the storm.”
We do have higher sea level because of climate change. So whenever we have these types of storms, you’re probably dealing with a more significant storm surge because of that than you would perhaps 100 years ago.
Media Matters analyzed the morning, nightly, and Sunday news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC from September 7-19.
CBS and PBS each aired fewer segments on the links between climate change and hurricanes than they did last year during coverage of Harvey. In 2017, as Hurricane Harvey menaced parts of Texas, Media Matters tracked the number of TV news segments about the hurricane that mentioned climate change. Harvey, like Florence, was the first major hurricane of the year to make landfall in the continental U.S. In comparing last year's Harvey coverage to this year's Florence coverage, we found that networks overall did a worse job of drawing links between climate change and hurricanes this year.
During its Harvey coverage, CBS aired three segments discussing the ways that climate change influences hurricanes, but it aired just two such segments during Hurricane Florence coverage. NBC was the only network that improved its coverage: Last year, it aired zero segments mentioning the climate-hurricane connection in the context of Harvey while this year it aired one during its Florence coverage. ABC failed to air any segments mentioning climate change during coverage of either Harvey or Florence. We also analyzed weekday episodes of PBS NewsHour and found that its coverage had declined: Last year, the show aired three segments about Harvey that discussed climate change. This year, it aired only two such segments about Florence.
ABC was the only network that did not mention climate change in its coverage of Florence at all. ABC's failure on this score was not surprising, as the network has a history of neglecting climate change. Earlier this year, it was the only major broadcast network to make no mention of climate change in relation to the deadly heat wave that affected much of the U.S., and it spent less time last year reporting on climate change on its nightly and Sunday shows than did CBS and NBC.
CBS aired just two segments that addressed the effects of climate change on hurricanes. Both of the segments, which ran during the September 15 episode of CBS This Morning, included strong analysis. The first mentioned Hurricane Florence in the broader context of the Global Climate Action Summit, which took place in San Francisco from September 12-14. CBS correspondent John Blackstone noted, “For activists here, Hurricane Florence provided an example of the kind of extreme weather scientists have predicted would come more often in a warming world.” The second segment immediately followed the first, and featured meteorologist Jeff Berardelli discussing how climate change can influence hurricanes:
NBC aired just one segment that reported on the links between climate change and hurricanes. In a good segment on the September 15 episode of Today, NBC correspondent Harry Smith spoke with Adam Sobel, an atmospheric science professor at Columbia University, and Rob Freudenberg, an environmental planning expert, about how climate change affects hurricanes. Sobel said, “What we know certainly about climate change and hurricanes is that because of higher sea-level rise, the risk from storm-surge flooding is going up. And we know with a high degree of confidence that rainfall from these storms is also increasing.”
PBS NewsHour aired only two segments that connected climate change to hurricanes. Both segments featured strong analysis from climate scientists. On the September 14 episode of PBS NewsHour, Columbia University climate scientist Radley Horton discussed how there is a “very clear link” between climate change and hurricanes. On the September 19 episode of PBS NewsHour, science correspondent Miles O’Brien looked at the science behind hurricanes, and featured several climate scientists. One of them was the University of Wisconsin’s James Kossin, who recently published a study about how tropical cyclones are slowing down due to anthropogenic warming.
We also analyzed prime-time, weekday shows on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News from September 7-19. CNN and MSNBC both aired fewer segments that discussed climate change in the context of hurricanes than they did during Hurricane Harvey. Fox aired the same number as last year, but its coverage was even more dismissive of climate science now than it was in 2017.
CNN aired two segments that discussed the links between climate change and hurricanes, down from five such segments that ran during Harvey coverage. Both of the climate mentions occured on September 11, when CNN commentators only briefly raised the topic during broader discussions. CNN Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein mentioned on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer that hurricanes are influenced by the changing climate, while CNN Political Commentator Van Jones made a similar point on Cuomo Prime Time.
MSNBC aired four segments that discussed the links between climate change and hurricanes, down from five that ran during Harvey coverage. The September 13 episode of All In With Chris Hayes featured a substantive and informative segment with meteorologist Eric Holthaus -- the best of the prime-time cable segments we analyzed. Holthaus began the discussion by stating, “Florence is a huge hurricane. I mean, this is one of the largest hurricanes that we've ever seen in the Atlantic. And you can't really talk about this without talking about climate change.” He explained that intense rain and storm surge fueled by climate change were major components of the storm. The other MSNBC mentions of climate change occurred in the context of broader discussions: one more on the September 13 All In episode; one on the September 13 episode of Hardball with Chris Matthews; and one on the September 11 episode of The Beat with Ari Melber.
Fox News aired six segments that mentioned climate change in its Florence coverage, but all of them were dismissive of the issue. That's slightly worse than last year during Harvey, when Fox also aired six such segments, only five of which were dismissive of the links between climate change and hurricanes.
Of Fox’s six segments that mentioned climate change this year, two featured well-known climate deniers who disputed any connections between climate change and hurricanes: The September 13 episode of Hannity included commentary from meteorologist Joe Bastardi, and the September 14 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight featured meteorologist Roy Spencer. In the other four Fox segments, hosts took aim at a Washington Post editorial that called President Trump complicit in extreme weather because his administration has been rolling back climate protections. Three of these attacks came from Sean Hannity -- on September 12, 13, and 14 -- and the fourth from Greg Gutfeld on September 12.
Media Matters ran the search terms "(Hurricane! OR Florence) AND (climate OR warming OR emission! OR carbon OR CO2 OR greenhouse gas!)" in Nexis to identify segments between September 7 and September 19 that mentioned both the hurricane and climate change. On the broadcast networks, we examined the morning, evening, and Sunday news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as weekday episodes of PBS NewsHour. For CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, we examined the networks’ prime-time shows that air on weekdays from 5-11 p.m.
As right-wing media insist that President Donald Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh won’t threaten abortion rights if he’s confirmed, PBS NewsHour modeled how outlets should report on Kavanaugh and contextualize his anti-abortion stances.
After Kavanaugh met with Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) -- regarded as a key vote for his confirmation -- Collins told reporters and released a statement that she was reassured about Kavanaugh’s stance on Roe v. Wade because he told her he agreed with Chief Justice John Roberts’ statement that Roe was “settled law.”
Although some outlets quickly explained why Collins should certainly not be reassured by Kavanaugh’s comments on Roe, PBS NewsHour’s August 23 segment was a particularly good model for how outlets should report on Kavanaugh's "settled law" comments, as well as demonstrate how his confirmation will be a threat to abortion rights.
From the August 23 segment:
During the segment, CNN Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic said that, with his comments about Roe being “settled law,” Kavanaugh is “trying out some lines” used by previous Supreme Court nominees. “When he meets with a senator,” Biskupic said, he “might experiment with what would be said. And we could see how Susan Collins received that quite positively.” Biskupic continued that it was possible Kavanaugh was “rehearsing his answers to try to satisfy senators enough to get the majority vote.” She warned that even if Kavanaugh talks about his “regard for precedent, … once he gets up there in a lifetime position, all bets are off.”
Besides emphasizing that Kavanaugh’s comments were not reflective of his likely jurisprudence, Biskupic further debunked his invocation of Roberts’ position on Roe. As Biskupic explained, although “Chief Justice John Roberts did talk about the importance of precedent and of Roe v. Wade being settled” there are actually “two rulings on abortion from Chief Justice John Roberts, one in 2007, and then more recently, where he did undercut the right.” During the segment, PBS NewsHour correspondent Lisa Desjardins also mentioned that Democratic senators said “Justice Gorsuch used the same standard, saying that he saw Roe as settled law. But Democrats like Chris Coons today point out that Justice Gorsuch recently voted to overturn a 41-year precedent, a court case from the Supreme Court in 1977, about labor law. That in that venue, it seems sort of as a Roe v. Wade of labor, Gorsuch did vote to overturn that. So Democrats are concerned that whether it’s settled law, these justices could be willing to overturn them.”
Kavanaugh is a threat to abortion access -- a fact Biskupic underscored in the PBS NewsHour segment by providing necessary context about his record on abortion rights and previous comments about Roe.
For example, in a 2017 case, the Trump administration stopped an unaccompanied pregnant immigrant teen (referred to as Jane Doe) in federal custody from having an abortion. The D.C. Court of Appeals eventually ruled that the government could not stop Doe from having an abortion. But Kavanaugh dissented in the case, arguing that the government should be able to block her decision to obtain abortion care while she’s in custody. In the segment, Biskupic explained that Kavanaugh’s dissent argued that “the government has an interest in fetal life here. … He said Roe is settled law. But he stressed that it wouldn’t have been a burden on this woman to have waited and gotten a sponsor, the government was right to try to make her wait and consider it.”
Similarly, Biskupic noted that we can tell a lot about Kavanaugh’s opinion on abortion rights from the way he has “talked about his judicial heroes. The first one when he was a young law student was former Chief Justice William Rehnquist. And he cited Rehnquist’s dissent in Roe v. Wade back in 1973. … And he’s done the same with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who was also an opponent of abortion rights.”
The PBS NewsHour segment shows the kind of coverage needed about Kavanaugh, especially considering Collins has voted for every Supreme Court nominee since she’s been a senator, including Roberts, Gorsuch, and Samuel Alito.
The Fair Housing Act was passed 50 years ago, but housing discrimination is still rampant, and media coverage of the issue is overly focused on President Donald Trump’s history of racism and discrimination in this arena. While his past is notable, it’s important for mainstream outlets to inform viewers about the widespread and complicated nature of housing discrimination by interviewing victims and highlighting fair housing research.
The Fair Housing Act was supposed to protect the right to fair housing for all people. And yet the act is not fulfilling its goals, with unprecedented attacks from the Trump administration and continued discrimination by banks, lenders, landlords, and/or developers, against Black and Latinx people, the poor, the formerly incarcerated, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and single women who are looking to rent or buy a home. There were 28,181 reported complaints of housing discrimination in 2016, but according to the National Fair Housing Alliance, housing discrimination is seriously underreported. The organization estimates that there are actually over 4 million cases of housing discrimination each year in America.
Mainstream television coverage of housing discrimination has been overly focused on Trump's personal history with discrimination. Mainstream news outlets are right to warn viewers about his history of racism and discrimination against Black people. However, mainstream outlets such as MSNBC and CNN should follow the lead of PBS and Democracy Now and use these opportunities to inform viewers about the issue, including by interviewing victims of housing discrimination and highlighting important fair housing research.
Pruitt's silly scandals got more attention than his weighty misdeeds and regulatory rollbacks
A version of this post was originally published on Grist.
Andrew Wheeler, new acting chief of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has gotten a soft reception from the media during his first couple of weeks on the job. The honeymoon phase needs to end now.
Wheeler is benefiting from comparisons to his disgraced predecessor, Scott Pruitt, who was flamboyantly corrupt and unprecedentedly adversarial toward the press. Wheeler keeps a lower profile than Pruitt and has given interviews to mainstream journalists instead of insulting them, so his different style has generated positive pieces and headlines.
But being more sober and civil than Pruitt is a very low bar to jump over. Wheeler doesn't deserve praise for clearing it.
Wheeler received glowing press just for saying he would listen to EPA employees. “When it comes to leadership, you can’t lead unless you listen,” he said during his first address to agency staff on July 11. That quote was featured in the headlines and introductions of stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post by reporters who had done some of the most aggressive coverage of Pruitt's scandals and regulatory rollbacks.
This is a stark example of how journalists have been quick to paint Wheeler as a departure from Pruitt even when he's doing exactly what Pruitt did.
The media need to stop focusing on the minor stylistic differences between Wheeler and Pruitt and start homing in on substance. The new EPA chief has already implemented his first major rollback of an environmental protection. Wheeler, a former lobbyist for a coal company, signed a final rule that will make it easier for power plants to dump toxic coal ash in ways that could pollute groundwater. And Wheeler has pledged to carry forward the rest of Pruitt's agenda.
So how should the media be covering Wheeler? To help answer that question, take a look back at how they covered Pruitt.
Journalists at many outlets did excellent reporting on a wide range of Pruitt's scandals and regulatory moves, particularly the teams covering the EPA at The Washington Post and The New York Times. The problem was that only some of that good original reporting got amplified by other media outlets and ultimately seen by wide audiences, and too often it was the least important stories that got the most attention.
Media Matters analyzed TV news coverage of Pruitt during a period in June in which a number of EPA regulatory rollbacks and Pruitt scandals were revealed.
For each of the following stories, we looked at how much coverage major prime-time TV news programs devoted to it in the week after it was first reported:
The first four stories -- the ones involving policy changes likely to lead to more pollution -- got markedly less attention on TV news than the scandals surrounding Pruitt's bizarre personal misbehavior.
Pruitt getting the boot opens up an opportunity for journalists to do a better job covering the EPA, as Wheeler seems unlikely to suck up all the oxygen by making goofy moves like buying “tactical pants” or using sirens to speed to his favorite restaurant.
Last month, some reporters on the EPA beat expressed frustration that Pruitt’s scandals were serving as distractions:
While we're all talking about EPA Chief Scott Pruitt's sleeping & eating habits, the agency continues to advance significant rulemaking.
Today's entry represents the 1st step in changing the way the EPA calculates the costs & benefits of its regulations. https://t.co/pBNeyrdVjc
— Jennifer A. Dlouhy (@jendlouhyhc) June 7, 2018
I would rather be writing about EPA policy--like how the EPA today moved to roll back the Clean Water protections it considered excessive from the Obama Administration. I really mean it. Thankfully our colleague @CoralMDavenport had a story on that too https://t.co/EEkD33nH6a
— Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT) June 15, 2018
Now they’ll have more time to chase stories about serious ethics questions at EPA and, most importantly, the regulatory rollbacks that could make Americans sick and kill us.
There will be plenty to cover, like:
During Wheeler's reign at the EPA -- which could last years -- reporters will need to stop comparing him to his predecessor and instead bird-dog the agency's deregulatory moves and dig for the ethics and corruption stories that aren't as ridiculous and simple as those Pruitt routinely offered up. We're counting on journalists assigned to the national environment beat to do just that.
But here's the potentially trickier part: After original reporting comes out on Wheeler's actions, other journalists and commentators and TV news producers will need to amplify those stories, writing articles and producing segments that will get the news in the public eye. Will they do it now that the EPA is no longer run by an absurd character with a proclivity for dramatic self-sabotage?
While Pruitt’s silly scandals were a distraction for some media outlets, they were a lure for others, drawing their eyes to an agency they might not cover often or in-depth. For instance, Vanity Fair -- not traditionally a source of EPA news -- published numerous pieces that highlighted Pruitt's scandals and also noted the more important fact that he'd been gutting regulations and suppressing science.
We need Vanity Fair to keep it up during the Wheeler era, and we need NBC Nightly News and CNN's Situation Room and so many others to join in.
Quiet deregulation and allegiance to industry are easy to ignore in the loud, lewd age of Trump, but everyday Americans who eat, drink, and breathe can't afford for the media to miss the most important stories about the EPA.
Methodology: Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts for prime-time (5 p.m. through midnight) programs on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, as well as the broadcast network nightly news programs: ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and PBS NewsHour. We examined a week’s worth of coverage for the seven stories in the first bullet-pointed list above. We identified and reviewed all segments that were captured by searching for the words Pruitt, EPA, or Environmental Protection Agency within 50 words of cost, benefit, calculate, calculation, economic, chemical, health, safety, toxic, water, pollute, pollution, rollback, regulate, regulation, rule, policy, pen, jewelry, mattress, Trump Hotel, lotion, moisturizer, moisturizing, dry cleaning, security, scandal, ethics, or ethical.
Chart by Melissa Joskow. Research assistance by Kevin Kalhoefer.
ABC, CBS, and NBC aired 127 segments on the recent heat wave and only one noted that climate change is a driver of extreme heat
Throughout the recent record-breaking heat wave that affected millions across the United States, major broadcast TV networks overwhelmingly failed to report on the links between climate change and extreme heat. Over a two-week period from late June to early July, ABC, CBS, and NBC aired a combined 127 segments or weathercasts that discussed the heat wave, but only one segment, on CBS This Morning, mentioned climate change.
From the last week of June into the second week of July, an intense heat wave moved across the U.S., going from the eastern and central parts of the country to the West Coast. A large area of high atmospheric pressure helped to create a massive and powerful heat dome, which migrated from New England to southern California. The heat wave brought record-breaking temperatures -- during its first week, 227 U.S. records were broken for highest temperature for particular days, and during the second week, at least six locations in southern California alone saw record-breaking highs. The heat wave killed at least five people in the U.S. and up to 70 people in Quebec, Canada.
There is overwhelming scientific evidence that human-induced climate change is exacerbating both the frequency and intensity of heat waves. Heat domes like the one that caused this recent heat wave are becoming more intense and more common, scientists have found. UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain, who has studied extreme weather patterns in California, said recent heat in California was unusual. “The overall trend over decades to more intense and more frequent heat waves is definitely a signal of global warming,” he told The New York Times. And according to Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for Weather Underground, this recent heat wave was “the kind of thing you expect to see on a warming planet,” making it “easier to set a heat record.”
Recent studies also reinforce this point. In March 2018, an analysis of heat wave patterns published in Nature Climate Change concluded that climate change will overtake natural variability as the main cause of heat waves in both the western U.S. and Great Lakes region by the 2030s. Nature Climate Change also published a study last summer that detailed how heat waves will occur more frequently in the future due to climate change. Camilo Mora, associate professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and lead author of the 2017 study, said, “Many people around the world are already paying the ultimate price of heat waves, and while models suggest that this is likely to continue to be bad, it could be much worse if emissions are not considerably reduced.”
Media Matters analyzed morning and nightly news coverage of the heat wave on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as on PBS NewsHour, over a 14-day period from June 27 through July 10, covering the entire duration of the heat wave.
Neither ABC nor NBC mentioned that climate change influences heat waves. There were 32 segments or weathercasts on ABC and 59 segments or weathercasts on NBC that discussed the heat wave. None of them mentioned the link between climate change and extremely high temperatures.
CBS aired one segment that discussed the connection between climate change and high heat. Out of 36 CBS segments that mentioned the heat wave, just one mentioned climate change. The July 3 episode of CBS This Morning featured a discussion with Lonnie Quinn, chief weathercaster for WCBS-TV in New York City, who stated that there is a “really good, strong understanding that there’s a correlation between climate change and extreme hot and extreme cold” and noted the significant increase since 1970 in the number of days above 100 degrees in Miami, FL, and Austin, TX.
PBS NewsHour aired two segments on the heat waves, one of which discussed climate change. In its July 7 NewsHour program, PBS devoted a segment to the heat wave and incorporated climate change into its reporting, noting, “Global temperatures reached extreme highs this past week, something scientists have been warning of as part of the effects of climate change.” The segment also noted that July is off to a record-breaking start in terms of high temperatures.
In 2017, news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC severely undercovered climate change’s real-life impacts on people and climate change’s effects on extreme weather events, Media Matters found in its latest annual study of broadcast coverage. Over a two-week period during the height of hurricane season in 2017, neither ABC nor NBC aired a single segment on their morning, evening, or Sunday news shows that mentioned the link between climate change and hurricanes.
But there are positive trends in broadcast coverage. PBS continues to set the standard for quality news coverage of climate change, as it has in the past. And local meteorologists are increasingly incorporating discussions of climate change into their segments and forecasts. For example, on July 4 in Kansas City -- where there were two suspected heat-related deaths -- NBC affiliate KSHB discussed that climate change is expected to increase the number of extremely hot days in the future, using a dynamic map from climate science nonprofit Climate Central to make the point.
Media Matters searched Nexis, iQ media, and SnapStream for national news broadcasts that included a segment about the heat wave, using the search terms (heat OR "heat wave" OR "heat waves" OR heatwave OR heatwaves OR temperature OR temperatures OR hot). A second search adding the term AND (“climate change” OR “global warming”) was used to identify any segments on the heat wave that mentioned climate change. We did not count teasers or rebroadcasts. Our analysis covered early morning news shows (ABC's America This Morning, CBS Morning News, and NBC's Early Today), morning news shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today), and nightly news programs (ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and PBS NewsHour) from June 27 through July 10.
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Broadcast TV news neglected many critical climate change stories in 2017 while devoting most of its climate coverage to President Donald Trump. Seventy-nine percent of climate change coverage on the major corporate broadcast TV networks last year focused on statements or actions by the Trump administration, with heavy attention given to the president's decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement and to whether he accepts that human-caused climate change is a scientific reality. But the networks undercovered or ignored the ways that climate change had real-life impacts on people, the economy, national security, and the year’s extreme weather events -- a major oversight in a year when weather disasters killed hundreds of Americans, displaced hundreds of thousands more, and cost the economy in excess of $300 billion.
In 2017, we saw the first wave of high-profile men lose their media jobs after they were publicly named for sexual harassment or abusive behavior. This phenomenon seems to be far from over, but the last few weeks have also marked a new phase of the so-called reckoning: the first concentrated round of successors. A few stand-out and obviously qualified women are now being given the overdue opportunity to step up -- but the ways their employers have treated their new roles signals there’s a lot more work to be done.
Back in December, PBS announced it would fill Charlie Rose’s time slot with CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour’s show “on an interim basis.” Earlier this month, NBC formalized its replacement of Matt Lauer with longtime Today co-host Hoda Kotb, and CBS News co-anchor Alex Wagner was announced as a replacement for Mark Halperin in Showtime’s political documentary series The Circus. Yesterday, The New York Times formally announced it was appointing reporter Katie Rogers to its White House beat, which was vacated by Glenn Thrush.
Simply replacing male harassers with qualified women is not nearly enough, though. The examples so far do not represent anything close to a cultural change, which is what’s needed to effectively address such a clearly systemic problem. For each of these accomplished women, their promotions or new gigs have been coupled with sexist indignities or caveats.
Just hours after Hoda Kotb was announced as the new permanent Today co-anchor, Page Six reported that she would be making a significantly smaller salary than the serial abuser whose seat she would fill -- even as Kotb plans to continue co-hosting her additional fourth hour of the show, working literally more than Lauer.
Others aren’t technically replacements at all. Katie Rogers was named the Times’ new White House correspondent after Glenn Thrush was removed from the beat. But Thrush was not fired, to be clear, and will apparently continue to report for the Times in a to-be-determined new role in late January following a brief suspension. And Christiane Amanpour isn’t taking over Charlie Rose’s eponymous PBS show (which he produced independently) or even hosting a new show for PBS that would adopt the same format. Instead, PBS is simply electing to air her current show, Amanpour, “on an interim basis,” during Rose’s old time slot. (Rose's other former employer, CBS, has now reportedly filled Rose's morning show seat with Sunday news anchor John Dickerson.)
These initial replacements were obvious choices to make and, in some cases, long overdue. But today’s context reeks of an opportunistic exploitation of the public female body by news corporations, and it cheapens the accomplishments of Kotb, Wagner, Rogers, and Amanpour, and others they represent. Indeed, some of these same women were asked to serve as the public faces for processing the offenses reportedly committed by their predecessors. As Doreen St. Felix wrote in The New Yorker on Lauer's firing, “It is no surprise that, to convey something like moral mooring to a vastly female audience, the networks rely on women anchors to break the public fall.”
This icky feeling now can be summed up with a simple but telling act: The Hill, in promoting its write-up on Wagner’s new role on The Circus, tweeted, “Showtime’s ‘The Circus’ to replace Mark Halperin with female journalist.” The story was still about Halperin, after all, as it had always been; Wagner’s name or any of her myriad qualifications were less important than the convenient symbolism her body allowed media to neatly package into a few characters.
From hurricanes to heat waves to wildfires and beyond, 2017 has been a terrifying year of disasters in the U.S. And too many media outlets have missed a key part of the story: These aren't just natural disasters; in many cases, they're climate disasters.
The Los Angeles Times did a good job of explaining the climate-wildfire link in a December 6 editorial titled "While Southern California battles its wildfires, we have to start preparing for our hotter, drier future." Fires have long been a part of California ecosystems, and many factors have played a role in making the Thomas Fire and other December blazes so destructive, the editorial board noted, but underlying all of that is the brutal fact of global warming: "What should make Southern California fearful is that climate change could mean a future of more frequent and more intense wildfires."
Indeed, a number of scientific studies have linked climate change to increased wildfire risk in California. PBS's NewsHour aired a segment on December 13 that featured climate scientists explaining some of these links. "I think the science is pretty solid to indicate that wildfire risk is likely to increase in the future due to climate change," said scientist Radley Horton, a professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "I think exhibit A has to be the increase in temperature that we have observed. In California, we have seen about a 1.5-degree increase in temperature over the last century."
Unfortunately, many media outlets have not been connecting the dots between climate change and wildfires the way the L.A. Times and PBS did.
When huge fires raged through Montana and the Pacific Northwest this summer, and when fires tore through Northern California wine country in October, the major broadcast TV news programs and Sunday morning talk shows did not air a single segment discussing climate change in the context of those fires, Media Matters found. This despite the fact that scientists have determined that climate change is a major factor in forest fires in the western U.S.
Beyond fires, many mainstream media outlets missed critical opportunities this year to discuss how other kinds of disasters are made worse by climate change.
In June, parts of the southwestern U.S. baked in a record heat wave that brought temperatures up to 119 degrees in Phoenix, so hot that certain types of small planes couldn't get off the ground. The record temperatures coincided with publication of a comprehensive peer-reviewed study that found deadly heat waves are on the rise thanks to climate change. But major television network affiliates in Phoenix and Las Vegas completely failed to discuss how climate change exacerbates heat waves like the one the region was experiencing, according to a Media Matters analysis.
News coverage of the impact of climate change on hurricanes has been sorely lacking this year, too. Even the unprecedented one-two-three punch of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria wasn't enough to spur some key mainstream outlets to tell an increasingly obvious story.
ABC and NBC both completely failed to bring up climate change during their coverage of Hurricane Harvey, Media Matters found. So did the New York Post, one of the highest-circulation newspapers in the country, according to a report by Public Citizen. The Weather Channel, where many Americans turn when weather disasters loom, also failed to address the climate-hurricane connection during Harvey. Worse still, both Fox News and The Wall Street Journal ran more pieces that disputed a climate-hurricane link than pieces that acknowledged it. These findings by Media Matters and others inspired climate activists to launch a Twitter campaign calling on media to end the #climatesilence.
TV news showed modest improvement at connecting the dots between climate change and hurricanes during Hurricane Irma, but still came up short. And when Maria hit, much of the mainstream media didn't even give adequate coverage to the storm itself or its aftermath, let alone the climate angle, as both Media Matters and MIT Media Lab researchers found.
Climate change cannot be blamed for wholly causing any one individual weather disaster, but it effectively loads the dice in favor of abnormal and extreme weather, as climate scientist James Hansen and his colleagues have explained.
And after a weather event has occurred, scientists can analyze the extent to which climate change was a contributing factor. A new set of papers published this month found that human-caused climate change was a “significant driver” for 21 of 27 extreme weather events in 2016, including the year's record-breaking global heat. Some scientists have already done these kinds of attribution studies for 2017's hurricanes and found that climate change increased rainfall from Hurricane Harvey by between 15 and 38 percent.
We all lost big in the climate-rigged dice game this year. There were so many record-setting extreme weather incidents and disasters in 2017 that it's hard to remember them all. Consider a few you might have forgotten:
As USA Today recently put it, "From record flooding to disastrous wildfires, 2017 will go down as one of the USA's most catastrophic years ever for extreme, violent weather that disrupted the lives of millions of Americans."
But that USA Today piece neglected to note the role climate change played in juicing up 2017's count of big disasters.
Some news organizations consistently do a better job of reporting on climate change. The New York Times and The Washington Post have published strong reporting and good editorials and opinion pieces on the impact of climate change on disasters. CNN and MSNBC outperformed other TV news outlets in discussing how hurricanes Harvey and Irma were affected by climate change. In one recent segment, CNN invited climate scientist Michael Mann to explain the connection between climate change and hurricane intensity, offering a great model for other outlets:
But those kinds of segments are all too rare. Many of the most influential mainstream media outlets need to do better at reporting on the connections scientists are finding between climate change and extreme weather. When a disaster hits, that's a prime opportunity to report on climate change, a topic that at other times might not seem newsy. When a long string of unprecedented disasters hit, as happened this year, that's even more of a call for media to tell the story of global warming.
Good journalism is needed not just to help Americans understand the reality of climate change, but to inspire them to fight the problem by pushing for a rapid shift to cleaner energy, transport, and agriculture systems.
Let's hope to see more climate-focused, science-driven journalism in 2018.
Methodology: To search for broadcast television and Sunday show coverage of the Northwest and Northern California wildfires and climate change, Media Matters searched Nexis using the term (fire! OR wildfire!) w/30 (climate change OR global warming OR changing climate OR climate warm! OR warm! climate OR warm! planet OR warm! globe OR global temperatures OR rising temperatures OR hotter temperatures).
CBS and PBS are the latest news outlets to cover reported incidents of sexual harassment and misconduct by one of their own employees -- and so far both networks are taking measures to send the right messages to staff and viewers.
On November 20, Irin Carmon and Amy Brittain detailed in a lengthy Washington Post investigation stories from eight women who say TV news host Charlie Rose “made unwanted sexual advances toward them, including lewd phone calls, walking around naked in their presence, or groping their breasts, buttocks or genital areas.” Yvette Vega, Rose’s executive producer for his PBS show, told the Post, “I should have stood up for [young women on the show]. I failed. It is crushing. I deeply regret not helping them.” Additional women shared stories of misconduct by Rose with Business Insider and The New York Times following the initial report.
Until today, Rose was the co-host of CBS This Morning and host of PBS’ Charlie Rose. He’s now been fired from both positions. Both outlets aired segments grappling with the reports against Rose within a few hours of the Post piece being published on Monday night.
CBS Evening News’ initial segment detailed the reports of Rose’s harassment and assault and shared a statement from CBS saying Rose was suspended.
For its part, PBS Newshour interviewed Carmon that evening about her piece, and she explained the hurdles she encountered in attempting to report the story in 2010, when she worked for Jezebel:
JUDY WOODRUFF (HOST): And how did you go about -- as we said, the story says this took place over a period of years. How did you go about confirming any of these allegations?
IRIN CARMON: Judy, I first became aware of this story in 2010, when I was a reporter at the website Jezebel. And I attempted to report on them, but unfortunately I hit walls. I was not able to confirm the story. People were not ready to talk, frankly. It occurred to me now, in the last few weeks, because of the amazing reporting that’s been done on sexual misconduct and abuse, that perhaps the women who were worried about retaliation, who were afraid of Mr. Rose’s power in the industry, of his wealthy friends, of his famous sit-down interviews with world leaders, that perhaps they were ready to talk.
On Tuesday morning, CBS This Morning began its broadcast with a more detailed report on the allegations of misconduct, this one featuring Post reporter Amy Brittain:
Co-hosts Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell reflected on the reported actions of their missing co-host, and each woman addressed viewers with remarkable candor:
NORAH O’DONNELL (CO-HOST): This is a moment that demands a frank and honest assessment about where we stand and, more generally, the safety of women. Let me be very clear: There is no excuse for this alleged behavior. It is systematic and pervasive. And I’ve been doing a lot of listening, and I’m going to continue to do that. This I know is true: Women cannot achieve equality in the workplace or in society until there is a reckoning and a taking of responsibility. ...This has to end. This behavior is wrong. Period.
GAYLE KING (CO-HOST): I am not OK after reading that article in the Post. It was deeply disturbing, troubling, and painful for me to read. That said, I think we have to make this matter to women, the women who have spoken up, the women who have not spoken up because they’re afraid. I’m hoping that now they will take the step to speak out too, that this becomes a moment of truth. I’ve enjoyed a friendship and a partnership with Charlie for the past five years. I’ve held him in such high regard, and I’m really struggling because how do you -- what do you say when someone that you deeply care about has done something that is so horrible? How do you wrap your brain around that? I’m really grappling with that. That said, Charlie does not get a pass here. He doesn’t get a pass from anyone in this room.
The morning show also aired a third segment featuring nearly 10 minutes of conversation among highly accomplished women who had experienced workplace sexual harassment, including Rent The Runway’s Jennifer Hyman, Ellevest’s Sallie Krawcheck, Tribeca Enterprises’ Jane Rosenthal, Teen Vogue’s Elaine Welteroth, and gymnast Jessica Howard.
Within 24 hours, CBS had fired Rose; CBS News President David Rhodes said in an internal memo leaked to the press that Rose’s immediate termination was in part because CBS News was committed to a “safe, professional workplace.” The message about CBS News’ priorities for its staff and audience was clear:
Despite Charlie’s important journalistic contribution to our news division, there is absolutely nothing more important, in this or any organization, than ensuring a safe, professional workplace -- a supportive environment where people they can do this work. We need to be such a place.
I’ve often heard that things used to be different. And no one may be able to correct the past. But what may once have been accepted should not ever have been acceptable.
CBS News has reported on extraordinary revelations at other media companies this year and last. Our credibility in that reporting requires credibility managing basic standards of behavior. That is why we take these actions.
Though CBS’ public response to the piece has been noteworthy, it should be mentioned that the network reportedly knew about the Post's ongoing investigation into Rose's behavior for some time. The company's decision to wait until now to publicly address the issue suggests that its response has been triggered more by public exposure than anything else. And last month, another CBS employee was more quietly forced to resign amid sexual harassment reports detailing incidents said to have occurred as far back as 2009.
CBS is not the first outlet to grapple with workplace sexual harassment or misconduct happening in its own newsroom. Since the first New York Times investigation of Harvey Weinstein was published on October 5, investigative pieces and first-hand accounts published on social media have reported employees for sexual harassment at Vox Media, The Atlantic, NBC Universal and MSNBC, The New Republic, NPR, Mother Jones, Fox News, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, HuffPost, Vice, and now, The New York Times.
Some of these outlets, like NPR, have chosen to cover the reports extensively and consistently in a public moment of reckoning; others appear to have taken action but not publicly written about the harassment complaints.
Ditching limits on power plant emissions will lead to an estimated 3,600 more premature deaths each year
A number of TV news outlets failed to cover the negative health impacts of the Trump administration's decision to repeal limits on carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants. Of the major broadcast networks' morning and evening news shows, only ABC's World News Tonight mentioned how Americans' health could be affected by the move. On the major cable news networks, CNN overlooked the health angle and MSNBC addressed it in some segments, while most Fox News commentators discussed the repeal in approving or celebratory tones.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced on Monday that he would formally move to repeal the Clean Power Plan, and on Tuesday he signed a proposed rule to get the process rolling. The Clean Power Plan was put in place by the Obama administration in 2015, imposing the first-ever federal limits on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Pruitt's move will have serious, real-world impacts on Americans' health. According to Obama's EPA, not only would the Clean Power Plan have helped to fight climate change, but it would also have curbed a number of health problems and premature deaths. That's because when utilities reduce their emissions of climate-warming CO2 pollution, they also reduce other pollutants that cause soot and smog and directly harm human health. An EPA fact sheet from 2015 says the agency determined that the rule would prevent thousands of deaths and health-related problems each year:
Under Pruitt, however, those health improvements will be denied to Americans. Pruitt's EPA not only disputes the scientific agreement that humans are driving climate change; it also disputes the scientific agreement that particulate matter and other smog-forming pollutants are unsafe for humans at any level. The EPA's new proposed rule contends that there would be no health benefits to reducing air pollutants below levels currently required by Clean Air Act regulations.
Pruitt's repeal will be particularly harmful to people of color and low-income Americans, as they suffer more than whiter, wealthier communities do from coal plant pollution. The Clean Power Plan included a number of environmental-justice provisions intended to help redress that inequity.
Media Matters analyzed morning and nighttime news shows on October 9 and 10 on ABC, CBS, and NBC, plus PBS NewsHour. ABC was the sole corporate broadcast network to note the health benefits of the Clean Power Plan in coverage of the plan’s repeal, and it did so in only a brief mention. During a headline rundown on the October 9 episode of World News Tonight with David Muir, Muir reported, “The 2015 Clean Power Plan aimed to cut power plant carbon emissions by 30 percent and save 3,600 lives a year.”
In contrast, neither CBS nor NBC made any reference to what the repeal would mean for public health. NBC covered the repeal once, on the October 10 episode of NBC Nightly News, while CBS covered it twice, on the October 9 episode of CBS Evening News and the October 10 episode of CBS This Morning.
PBS NewsHour briefly mentioned the health angle during a lengthy segment on the plan's repeal on October 10 that featured interviews with Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA under President Obama, and coal company CEO Robert Murray. PBS correspondent John Yang did not bring up the health implications of the repeal, but McCarthy mentioned them when she said that Pruitt's move “will limit the kind of protections you will get for public health and take a significant bite out of our ability to address climate change and keep our kids’ future safe.”
Of the major cable networks, MSNBC provided the best TV news coverage of the health implications of the Clean Power Plan repeal. Media Matters analyzed cable news from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on October 9 and October 10 and found that MSNBC aired eight segments on the repeal, three of which mentioned human health. On the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson, NBC correspondent Anne Thompson explained that “doctors are very concerned, because if you increase the amount of coal-fired power, that means you’re putting more particulates in the air, and if that happens, that means you’re going to see more asthma attacks, more days missed in school and work from various illnesses, and more premature deaths.” Another October 10 edition of MSNBC Live featured an interview with Laura Kellogg, an American Lung Association volunteer and mother of children with asthma, who discussed how the plan’s repeal would harm children living close to coal plants. And the same day on MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, Melvin asked guest Mustafa Ali, former head of EPA's environmental justice program, about the health impacts of the repeal and gave Ali a chance to discuss the premature deaths and asthma attacks that are expected to result.
(The remaining five MSNBC segments on the plan's repeal, which didn't mention its public health consequences, aired on the October 9 edition of MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle, the October 10 edition of MTP Daily, the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live, and the October 10 edition of MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, which featured two segments on the repeal.)
CNN, on the other hand, did not discuss the health effects during any of its four segments that mentioned the Clean Power Plan repeal on October 9 and 10. Two of those segments aired on New Day on October 10, while one ran on Inside Politics on October 10 and one on At This Hour on October 9.
Fox News aired seven segments covering the repeal of the Clean Power Plan and made four additional mentions while reading headlines. Much of the tone of Fox’s coverage was celebratory. Twice on the October 9 edition of Fox & Friends and once on the October 10 edition of the show, Jillian Mele presented the repeal as President Donald Trump delivering on a campaign promise to his base. On October 10, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade introduced an interview with a former coal worker by saying, “Yesterday the Trump administration kept another campaign promise because Hillary Clinton didn't win, even though no one told her yet, to end the war on coal and help American families.” Sandra Smith also covered the repeal as Trump keeping a campaign promise on the October 9 edition of America’s Newsroom, and the next day she asked Fox contributor Karl Rove whether it can “be seen as a big win for this administration.” Rove responded, "Well, it’s a big win,” adding that Trump needed legislative victories as well.
Special Report was the outlier on Fox News, citing information on health effects of the repeal in two segments. During the show’s October 9 report, correspondent Griff Jenkins read a quote from the Sierra Club noting that the Clean Power Plan would “prevent thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of childhood asthma attacks every year.” And on October 10, during an interview with Pruitt, host Bret Baier read a statement from former EPA Administrator Carol Browner that noted the health impacts of the move and asked Pruitt to respond to the statement.
(The additional Fox News segments and mentions on the repeal were on the October 9 edition of The Story with Martha MacCallum and the October 9 edition of America’s Newsroom during the 9 a.m. hour and the 10 a.m. hour.)
When the Obama administration finalized the Clean Power Plan in 2015, many mainstream media outlets neglected to cover the public health implications, as Media Matters noted at the time.
Coverage of the Clean Power Plan was even more lacking last year. Then-candidate Trump promised to repeal the Clean Power Plan during his campaign, but broadcast news programs gave little attention to that pledge or to the plan itself last year, Media Matters found in an analysis of 2016 coverage. Ultimately, broadcast news failed to adequately inform viewers and voters before the election about what a Trump presidency would mean for environmental policy. Now we're seeing the Trump administration working to roll back more than 50 environmental protections.
TV news outlets’ shortcomings this week in covering the repeal of the Clean Power Plan are just part of a longer pattern of insufficient coverage.
Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of "Pruitt,” “Clean Power Plan," "EPA," "Environmental Protection Agency," "carbon," "emissions," "regulation,” and "rule.” We examined coverage on October 9, the day Pruitt announced his intention to repeal the rule, and October 10, the day he formally proposed the repeal. For broadcast networks, we examined the morning and evening news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as PBS NewsHour. For cable news, we examined coverage from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Zachary Pleat contributed to this report.