PBS outperforms its corporate broadcast counterparts in 2022 climate coverage
NewsHour is raising the bar on broadcast climate coverage
In 2022, weekday editions of PBS’s nightly news program NewsHour aired twice as many segments on the climate crisis as the nightly news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, which is particularly notable in a year when corporate broadcast networks’ climate coverage reached an all-time high.
PBS NewsHour has traditionally outperformed its broadcast counterparts in both the scope and depth of its climate coverage. In 2022, the show continued to push the bar on quality climate coverage higher.
PBS aired more segments on the climate crisis than ABC, CBS, and NBC
PBS NewsHour’s volume of climate segments decreased slightly to 147 segments in 2022 from its peak of 151 climate segments in 2021. The program, however, still is a leader among broadcast networks in quantity of coverage — its 147 segments in 2022 still equal more than twice the amount aired by any of its corporate counterparts. Of the corporate broadcast nightly news programs, CBS Evening News aired 69 segments, ABC’s World News Tonight aired 65 and NBC Nightly News aired 62.
In fact, NewsHour’s 151 segments in 2021 and 147 segments this past year rank as the highest and second-highest number of yearly segments about the climate crisis ever aired by a broadcast network.
In August, NewsHour aired 21 segments, the highest number of segments aired in one month on broadcast nightly news shows in 2022. The nightly news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC had their highest monthly totals in July, with ABC airing 18, NBC airing 17, and CBS airing 15.
NewsHour’s climate coverage in August included reporting on the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which contained historic spending to address carbon emissions reduction; the climate-induced famine in East Africa, which has contributed to a tragic humanitarian crisis in the region; and historic flooding in Pakistan, which killed more than 1,000 people and displaced more than 30 million.
PBS’ segments also benefit from a more diverse and varied point of view
PBS’ NewsHour was slightly more diverse than its broadcast counterparts when it came to the gender and racial makeup of its guests in climate segments. Out of 189 guest appearances in 2022, 113 were made by men (60%) and 76 were made by women (40%). 128 were made by non-Hispanic white guests (67%) and 61 (33%) by BIPOC. 18 of PBS’ guest appearances were made by Black guests (10%), and the network also featured 11 appearances by guests of Latino descent and 11 by those of South Asian origin, as well as 8 Native American guest appearances. NewsHour featured a higher percentage of climate advocates and activists as guests than its counterparts. ABC’s nightly news program featured no climate activists as guests, while CBS’ and NBC’s nightly news programs each featured one climate activist as part of their COP27 reporting. PBS NewsHour featured 8 climate activists throughout 2022 — and all but one was a person of color.
A notable segment on PBS’ NewsHour that highlighted the importance of varied points of view came during the July 5 edition with National Wildlife Federation Executive Vice President Mustafa Santiago Ali, who discussed the Supreme Court’s decision to limit the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency. While its corporate broadcast counterparts all covered the ruling, NewsHour was alone in intentionally seeking out an expert who could comment on how the case would impact environmental justice (Ali formerly worked in the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice). Ali discussed how the types of regulations affected by the ruling are most consequential for vulnerable communities that live adjacent to coal power plants.
PBS is not just covering climate more than ABC, CBS, and NBC -- it’s covering it better
NewsHour’s one-hour format, approximately 30 mins longer than its corporate counterparts, allows it to report on climate news with more depth. For example, NewsHour’s coverage of the Inflation Reduction Act’s climate provision was far better than reporting by its counterparts. As was its coverage of the global climate negotiations, COP27.
Media Matters’ 2022 study on broadcast climate coverage found that the vast majority of ABC’s, CBS’, and NBC’s coverage of the landmark Inflation Reduction Act failed to detail the climate implications of the historic $369 billion allocated for climate action within the law. By contrast, PBS’ coverage was substantial. On August 8 alone, the day after the package passed the Senate, NewsHour aired 3 segments on the IRA that delved into the bill’s climate provisions: one featuring an interview with Brian Deese, then director of the National Economic Council; one featuring an interview with policy expert Paul Bledsoe; and a third featuring an interview with journalist Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report.
PBS covered not just the blockbuster policies like the IRA but also smaller regulations and actions by the administration to curb emissions and advance clean technology to give audiences a more complete picture of the actions put in motion by the Biden administration to meet its climate goals. In total, NewsHour ran 30 segments on climate actions by the Biden administration — the same amount as ABC, CBS, and NBC combined. As part of this coverage, NewsHour also discussed the pressure on the Biden administration to increase drilling to lower gas prices and what that would mean for the administration’s climate goals. The program aired at least 3 segments that discussed new oil and gas leases on public lands while none of the nightly news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC covered the administration’s decision to resume oil and gas leasing on public land within the context of climate change.
NewsHour’s coverage of the annual international climate negotiations (COP27) last year also outpaced that of its counterparts in terms of both volume and substance. NewsHour ran more segments (10) than the nightly news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC combined (6 segments).
Like with NewsHour’s counterparts, the inclusion of “loss and damage” financing at COP27, considered a step forward in both acknowledging and addressing global climate injustices, prompted news reports to discuss how those most impacted by climate change have contributed the least. However, NewsHour aired more and longer segments that delved into this issue in more depth than its broadcast counterparts did — connecting this issue to recent global events like the flooding in Pakistan. It also was the only program to report on the ongoing issue of “greenwashing” within the context of COP27 pledges to address climate change by governments, corporations, and banks. NewsHour dedicated a segment to this issue during the November 16 edition of the show. The segment featured Fossil Free Media director and 350.org co-founder Jamie Henn, who highlighted the role of advertising and public relations in pushing false claims by fossil fuel companies.
Moreover, NewsHour was the only broadcast news program to report on the imprisoned Egyptian journalist and activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah’s hunger strike in the context of COP27, which was held in Egypt. The November 7 edition of the show featured the activist’s sister Sanaa Seif. Abd el-Fattah stopped consuming even water as COP27 got underway, putting his life on the line in an attempt to center Egypt’s human rights abuses while international attention was on the country.
In fact, Media Matters specifically reviewed broadcast news climate change segments to see whether climate was discussed through a justice lens or included accountability by explicitly naming the primary drivers of global warming or the main impediments to climate action.
PBS NewsHour aired more than twice as many segments (17) that included climate justice as ABC, CBS, and NBC combined (6). PBS also outpaced its corporate counterparts in explicitly using the term “fossil fuels” to describe what is driving planetary warming: NewsHour identified fossil fuels as the cause in 21 segments while corporate broadcast nightly news programs combined mentioned fossil fuels in 12 segments.
The program is also, seemingly, making a decision to keep telling climate stories even when extreme weather events or major climate events are not in the headlines. For example, during the month of March, PBS aired 13 climate segments while both ABC’s and NBC’s nightly news programs ran no climate segments and CBS’ Evening News aired only 2. Among the stories PBS covered in March that the other networks didn’t were the Global Climate Strike that took place on March 25, the collapse of the Conger ice shelf after days of record temperatures in Antarctica, and the confirmation hearings of Sarah Bloom Raskin (who withdrew her nomination for the Federal Reserve due to opposition to her strong stance on climate action).
PBS seemingly understands the role of the media in solving the climate crisis
NewsHour not only dedicated more airtime to, and provided better coverage of, the climate crisis than its corporate broadcast nightly news program counterparts in 2022, but it also explicitly acknowledged the important role of TV news in communicating climate science to audiences— specifically the impact of our warming planet in making extreme weather events more severe and frequent.
On the July 1 edition of NewsHour, science correspondent Miles O’Brien interviewed Jeff Berardelli and Al Roker, both of whom Media Matters has repeatedly cited as drivers of climate coverage on broadcast TV news, in a segment about the role of meteorologists in climate communication. Emmy Award-winning meteorologist and director of Climate Central's Climate Matters Bernadette Woods Plackey, who was also featured in the segment, discussed the role of misinformation campaigns intended to cast doubt on the connection between extreme weather and climate change. The segment also discussed the challenge of ongoing climate denial by TV hosts like Fox News’ Tucker Carlson who routinely disinform viewers about the connection.
Finally, the segment grappled with the relationship between climate coverage and climate action.
JEFF BERARDELLI (METEOROLOGIST): If we are going to make positive change in this world, we have to start doing it soon. Politics hasn’t followed suit yet. You can only hope that you keep telling the truth, and that people see this stuff unfolding in front of them, and that things do eventually change.
O’Brien concluded: “The public is finally hearing about climate research from scientists they know and trust, but will that lead to political action to address the crisis? That one is hard to forecast.”
Media Matters searched transcripts in the Nexis and SnapStream databases for ABC’s Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and This Week; CBS’ Mornings, Saturday Morning, Evening News, Weekend News, and Face the Nation; NBC’s Today, Nightly News, and Meet the Press; Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday; and PBS’ NewsHour for any of the terms and any derivations of the terms “climate,” “global warming,” “global heating,” “global temperatures,” “warmer planet,” “warming planet,” “planet warms,” “warmer globe,” “warming globe,” “globe warms,” “rising temperatures,” “hotter temperatures,” “green new deal,” “emissions,” “greenhouse gases,” or “net zero” from January 1 through December 31, 2022.
We included any segment when climate change was the stated topic of discussion as well as news rundowns that included a substantial mention of climate change, which we defined as a paragraph or more of a news transcript or a block of uninterrupted speech by a host, anchor, or correspondent. We also included weather reports, which we defined as instances when climate change was mentioned in an extreme weather report by a meteorologist in front of a green screen. We also included instances of a guest mentioning climate change in a network correspondent segment if the context of the segment was clearly about a climate, energy, or environmental issue.
When counting guest appearances, we included network employees, including paid contributors and analysts, if they appeared as part of a roundtable discussion on a Sunday morning political show. We did not include teasers if they were for segments that aired later on the same program. This review does not include “person on the street” interviews, in which an unnamed person in a transcript spoke briefly, as guests; however, in the previous iterations of this study, we included “person on the street” interviewees as guests.
We timed identified segments using the Kinetiq video database or Youtube if a network posted the segment to that website.
We rounded all times to the nearest minute and all percentages to the nearest whole. To determine the total program time, we averaged running time without commercials for a sample of each program.