A Media Matters analysis of major cable news coverage of the National Climate Assessment (NCA) revealed that CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News devoted more than three hours of total coverage to the report on its release date, May 6, and the day after. Some reporting, however, gave false balance a national platform, and cable news outlets were more likely to interview politicians than scientists about the threat of global warming.
National Climate Assessment Gains Widespread Media Attention
Federal Report Finds Threat Of Climate Change "Has Moved Firmly Into The Present." The U.S. Global Change Research Program released its third National Climate Assessment (NCA) report on May 6, outlining how climate change already has left its mark across the United States along with the dire consequences that can be expected if no action is taken to mitigate global warming. The news gained widespread media attention, making the top fold of every major U.S. newspaper except for The Wall Street Journal. From the report:
Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present. Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington State, and maple syrup producers in Vermont are all observing climate-related changes that are outside of recent experience. So, too, are coastal planners in Florida, water managers in the arid Southwest, city dwellers from Phoenix to New York, and Native Peoples on tribal lands from Louisiana to Alaska. This National Climate Assessment concludes that the evidence of human-induced climate change continues to strengthen and that impacts are increasing across the country. [U.S. Global Change Research Program, 5/6/14; Media Matters, 5/7/14]
Top Cable Networks Used False Balance In Coverage Of Report
On National Climate Assessment, CNN Aired More Than Any Other Major Cable News Outlet. Out of all of the top cable outlets, CNN provided the most coverage of the federally mandated National Climate Assessment, airing nearly an hour and a half of reporting and interviews. This trend was a welcome contrast to less than two minutes of airtime that CNN used to cover a recent report from the world's foremost climate experts that offered dire predictions about climate change. By comparison, Fox News aired the least coverage with nearly 42 minutes, half as much as CNN did. MSNBC gave its audience nearly one hour of news about the report. [Media Matters, 4/1/14]
Much Of CNN's Coverage Provided False Balance. While CNN offered the most coverage of what will happen if nothing is done about climate change, the outlet also gave a national platform for false balance on the issue. Notably, the May 6 episode of CNN's Crossfire hosted Bill Nye "The Science Guy" and economist Nicholas Loris from the Heritage Foundation to debate the science and effects of climate change. Loris attempted to minimize the escalating risks facing the planet, including hotter temperatures, more droughts, and more extreme weather events, while Crossfire co-host S.E. Cupp said the report utilized "scare tactics" and claimed that climate scientists are attempting to "bully other people." The network's CNN Tonight also failed to fact-check Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in a May 6 interview after he questioned whether or not scientists are correct in attributing greenhouse gas emissions to a worsening global climate. By contrast, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers, who at one time questioned whether or not human action influenced global warming, warned viewers that if the bottom of the food chain is destabilized, it's not good for humanity because "we're at the top." A report from the Union of Concerned Scientists reported that CNN misled in 30 percent of their coverage on climate science last year, mostly from airing false balance debates. [Crossfire, 5/6/14, via Mediaite; ThinkProgress, 5/8/14; Union of Concerned Scientists, April 2014]
CNN Anchors Previously Agreed: Debate Over Climate Change's Science Is Over. While some CNN shows continue to present false balance when reporting on climate change, a few of the outlet's anchors have spoken out against this type of reporting. CNN anchor Carol Costello recently wrote an op-ed that stated: "There is no debate. Climate change is real. And, yes, we are, in part, to blame." On CNN's Reliable Sources, host Brian Stelter criticized false balance with a chyron that asked: "Climate change is not debatable, so why does TV insist on staging climate arguments?" Yet less than three months later, the network resorted again to false balance, taking a step backward from a position that its anchors advocated. [CNN.com, 2/24/14; Reliable Sources, 2/23/14, via Media Matters]
Fox News Also Largely Cast Doubt, Calling Climate Change A "Superstition." Fox News used the National Climate Assessment report to cast doubt on the harm that climate change has already caused, even calling the federally mandated report a distraction. On the May 6 edition of Fox News' Special Report With Bret Baier, network commentator Charles Krauthammer reduced the science behind global warming as being "the oldest superstition around," adding that he was "not impressed by consensus." According to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, Fox News' reporting on climate change is overwhelmingly misleading -- 72 percent of their coverage in 2013 included misinformation. [Special Report With Bret Baier, 5/6/14, via Media Matters; Union of Concerned Scientists, April 2014]
Cable News Outlets Rarely Interviewed Scientists About The National Climate Assessment. The top cable news networks relied on scientists for a mere 14 percent of all interviews when interpreting the significance of the climate report's findings. The outlets were far more likely to interview politicians, who made up more than one-third of all interviews on the day the NCA was released as well as the day after. Among these politicians who were interviewed, they were more likely to be Republicans than Democrats.
This report analyzes coverage of "climate" and "global warming" on May 6 and May 7 on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. Timestamps were acquired from Media Matters' internal video archives and were applied generously.
Denise Robbins, Shauna Theel, Emily Arrowood, and Ellie Sandmeyer contributed to this report