It's Not Just The Editorial Page: Study Finds WSJ's Reporting On Climate Change Also Skewed

Study Determines Journal Less Likely To Discuss Climate Impacts, More Likely To Negatively Frame Issue


When it comes to covering climate change, it's not just The Wall Street Journal's editorial section that is problematic in the Rupert Murdoch era -- a new study shows the paper's newsroom has misinformed readers on the issue, too.

A new joint study from researchers at Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Oslo appearing in the journal Public Understanding of Science (PUS) found major differences between the climate change reporting of The Wall Street Journal and other major U.S. newspapers. The July 30 study, titled “Polarizing news? Representations of threat and efficacy in leading US newspapers' coverage of climate change,” examined non-opinion-based climate change articles in The Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post from 2006 to 2011.

The study found some disturbing trends in The Wall Street Journal's news reporting on climate change, including that the Journal was less likely than the other newspapers to discuss the threats or impacts of climate change and more likely to frame climate action as ineffective or even harmful. The authors of the study concluded that, given the Journal's conservative readership, the negative nature of its climate reporting “could exacerbate ideological polarization on climate change.”

Fox News Channel founder Rupert Murdoch purchased The Journal in 2007, so this flawed reporting largely happened on his watch.

Here's how The Journal differed from other major newspapers in its climate reporting:

The Journal was far less likely than the other newspapers to mention at least one impact of climate change on the environment, public health, national security, or the economy. The Journal only mentioned climate change impacts in 21.6 percent of its climate stories, far less frequently than The New York Times (40.3 percent), Washington Post (48.8 percent) and USA Today (58.2 percent). In particular, The Journal was far and away the least likely newspaper to mention the impacts of climate change on the environment and public health.


The Journal was also least likely to cover climate change as a threat -- particularly as a present-day threat. The study found that The Journal discussed present-day threats from climate change in only 12.7 percent of its articles, whereas The Times, Washington Post, and USA Today discussed climate threats in 28.3, 39.5, and 40.3 percent of their climate coverage, respectively. Recent Pew polling shows that Americans consider climate change less of a threat than people in many other countries do, a trend that may be exacerbated by The Journal's coverage.

WSJ threat

The Journal was by far the most likely newspaper to discuss climate change actions, particularly government actions. The Journal mentioned at least one action that could be taken to address climate change in 93.3 percent of its coverage, and mentioned government actions in 81.3 percent of its stories. By contrast, the other newspapers discussed climate actions in 82.1-83.6 percent of their climate coverage, including government action in 60.9-66.4 percent of their climate stories.

But that's not actually a good thing, because The Journal tended to frame those actions as difficult or ineffective. The study found that The Journal included “positive efficacy” -- framing climate actions as manageable or effective -- in just 20.1 percent of its climate coverage. It included “negative efficacy” -- framing climate actions as unsuccessful or costly -- in 33.6 percent of its climate stories.

The New York Times was the only other newspaper to frame climate actions negatively more often than positively. The Times included “positive efficacy” in 16.8 percent of its climate coverage, and “negative efficacy” in 23.9 percent. 


Finally, The Journal was the most likely newspaper to use “conflict” framing -- presenting the issue as “a conflict or power struggle between politicians or stakeholder groups (e.g. Democrats and Republicans battling over legislation, international disputes over climate policy, climate change as an election issue).” It did so in 53 percent of its climate coverage.