STUDY: How Broadcast News Covered Climate Change In The Last Five Years
Research ››› ››› LAURA SANTHANAM
A Media Matters analysis reveals that news coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX picked up in 2013 over the previous year, but remained lower than a 2009 high. Furthermore, while one Sunday show interviewed scientists about climate change, distinguishing itself as the first such program to do so in five years, these shows continued to rely largely on media figures and Republicans to dictate the conversation around global warming.
In 2013, Broadcast Networks Increased Coverage But Remained Below 2009 Highs
Media Offered Tepid Coverage Despite Major Report, Presidential Speech, And Scientific Milestone On Climate Change. In 2013, top international climate scientists released a major report on the state of climate science, following up on a 2007 report. The report found that the science on climate change has only gotten stronger during those six years, determining with 95 percent certainty that human activities are the "dominant cause" of global warming. Additionally, President Barack Obama delivered a major speech entirely focused on climate change, which former Vice President Al Gore hailed as the "best address on climate by any president ever." The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, the most important heat-trapping gas driving climate change, also surpassed a long-feared milestone of 400 parts per million -- an amount never seen before in human history. And extreme weather events made more likely or worsened by climate change also drew widespread coverage, even as the climate connection was ignored: near-record floodwaters washed over the Midwest, devastating wildfires swept the western United States, and the worst cyclone to make landfall on record struck the Philippines, wiping out entire communities and killing thousands of people. Despite all this, broadcast news' climate coverage remained relatively low.
Sunday Show Coverage Of Climate Change Picked Up, But Not By Much. The Sunday news shows devoted more airtime to discuss climate change in 2013 than in recent years, but it remained a paltry amount. Out of a year's worth of coverage, the Sunday shows focused on climate change for 27 minutes, the most aired since 2009. Not surprisingly, politics dominated 88 percent of these stories. Only one story, on CBS' Face The Nation, was driven by the scientific evidence linking some recent extreme weather to climate change.
- CBS' Face the Nation aired nearly 16 minutes of climate change-related coverage, almost twice as much as its nearest competitor, ABC's This Week.
- NBC's Meet the Press broadcast the least amount of coverage, failing to offer a single substantial mention of climate change in all of 2013. Fox News Sunday even aired more about climate change than Meet The Press, with nearly 4 minutes of politically-driven coverage.
Network TV Evening News Broadcasts Reported On Climate Change More In 2013. Network TV newscasts aired more climate change coverage in 2013 over the previous year, when there was less than an hour of coverage for the whole year. Altogether, ABC, CBS and NBC reported on global warming for nearly an hour and 42 minutes during their nightly newscasts in 2013, compared to a combined total of less than an hour in all of 2012. The majority of this coverage -- 58 percent -- was driven by stories on climate change's relation to extreme weather or impacts on wildlife, while 19 percent was driven by scientific findings, another 19 percent by political stories related to climate change, and 4 percent by other stories.
- NBC Nightly News outpaced both ABC and CBS, airing roughly 52 minutes of climate change coverage, recovering from a lull in coverage in 2012.
- ABC World News nearly cut its climate change coverage in half in 2013 over the previous year, reporting on this issue for less than 10 minutes.
Overall, Network TV News Outlets Ramped Up Climate Change Coverage In 2013. CBS aired 56 minutes of coverage on the topic in 2013, slightly more than NBC's nearly 52 total minutes of coverage and far greater than the 18 minutes of coverage that ABC devoted to climate change.
Sunday Shows Finally Interviewed Scientists About Climate Change, But Still Skewed Toward Media Figures And Republican Politicians
For The First Time In Five Years, A Sunday Show Invited Scientists To Talk About Climate Change. Before this year, Sunday show hosts did not interview a single scientist about climate change when discussing the issue on their shows. In 2013, that trend narrowly came to an end when, in a single episode of CBS' Face the Nation, the chief climatologist at Climate Central, Heidi Cullen, illustrated how rising temperatures have already affected weather extremes, and what would happen if climate change continues to worsen. In that segment CBS also interviewed Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, the head of the American Meteorological Society, who was counted as a scientist in our study due to his Ph.D. in Meteorology. No other Sunday show hosted a scientist to discuss climate change. [Climate Central, 5/28/13]
- Nightly news shows were much more likely to host scientists. In 2013, almost 54 percent of guests were scientists. However, this was a decrease from 2012. CBS Evening News also falsely balanced a scientist with the "skeptic" Global Warming Policy Foundation's Benny Peiser, who has no degree in science.
Media Figures And Republicans Dominated Sunday Show Coverage Of Climate Change. On the rare occasions when Sunday shows focused on climate change, they were still unlikely to talk to scientists. Of those guests who did appear on the Sunday shows to talk about global warming, 43 percent were media figures and another 29 percent were politicians. Among the politicians who came onto the Sunday shows to inform the public about climate change, three-quarters of them were Republican.
This report analyzes coverage of "climate change" or "global warming" between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2013, on four Sunday morning talk shows (ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, NBC's Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday) and three nightly news programs (ABC World News, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News). Fox Broadcasting Co. airs Fox News Sunday, but does not air a nightly news equivalent; Fox News is a separate cable channel. 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). Timestamps were acquired from Media Matters' internal video archive and the Internet Archive online database and were applied generously. For instance, if a segment about an extreme weather event mentioned climate change briefly, the entire segment was counted as climate coverage. For those segments not available in our archive, we estimated the length of the segment based on its word count.