STUDY: How Broadcast Networks Covered Climate Change In 2014

››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

The total coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox continued to increase for the third consecutive year, according to a Media Matters analysis, yet still remained below the level seen in 2009. Coverage on the networks' Sunday shows reached a six-year high after a group of senators demanded they provide more coverage of the issue, but the Sunday shows still infrequently interviewed scientists.

Networks' Total Climate Coverage Increased In 2014

Broadcast Networks Provided The Most Climate Coverage In Five Years. During 2014, the major broadcast networks' evening and Sunday news programs aired a total of 154 minutes of coverage of climate change. This was an increase from the previous year's 129 minutes and was significantly above the six-year average of about 108 minutes, but remained below the 205 minutes of coverage in 2009.

ABC And Fox Significantly Increased Their Climate Coverage, But Still Lagged Behind CBS And NBC. CBS and NBC devoted the most airtime to climate change last year with about 56 minutes and 47 minutes of coverage, respectively. CBS' coverage remained about the same as the previous year, when the network aired just over 56 minutes, while NBC's coverage decreased by about five minutes. Both CBS and NBC offered far more coverage on climate change, however, than Fox or ABC, despite a significant increase in coverage by those networks.

Total Coverage Of Climate Change In 2013 And 2014

Sunday Shows' Climate Coverage Jumped After Senators Called For It

Major Networks' Sunday Shows Significantly Increased Climate Change Coverage In 2014. The Sunday shows aired more climate change coverage in 2014 than in any of the previous five years. Sunday shows aired roughly 81 minutes of coverage of climate change over the past year, an increase of about 54 minutes from 2013, marking the second straight year in which their climate coverage increased.

Sunday Shows' Increase In Coverage Followed Demand From U.S. Senators For More Coverage. The Sunday shows increased their climate change coverage after nine U.S. senators called for them to do so. In January of last year, the senators sent a letter to executives at ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox criticizing the Sunday shows for airing "shockingly little discussion" of climate change and calling for an increase in coverage. From the letter, which was signed by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Chris Murphy (D-CT):

The scientific community and governmental leaders around the world rightly worry about the horrific dangers we face if we do not address climate change. Sea level rise will take its toll on coastal states. Communities will be increasingly at risk of billions of dollars in damages from more extreme weather. And farmers may see crops and livestock destroyed as worsening drought sets in. Yet, despite these warnings, there has been shockingly little discussion on the Sunday morning news shows about this critically important issue. This is disturbing not only because the millions of viewers who watch these shows deserve to hear that discussion, but because the Sunday shows often have an impact on news coverage in other media throughout the week. [Sanders.Senate.gov, 1/16/14]

Fox's Sunday Show Offered The Fewest Climate Change Segments. Over the course of 2014, Fox News Sunday aired substantial mentions of climate change in just two segments, both of which focused on politics. By comparison, Sunday shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC each featured at least five segments that included a substantial mention of climate change.

Sunday Shows Improved Balance Between Republicans And Democrats, But Provided Platform For False Balance On Climate Science

Sunday Shows Improved Balance In Number of Democrats and Republicans Invited To Discuss Climate. The Sunday shows improved their balance between Republicans and Democrats invited on to discuss climate change in 2014. Whereas in 2013 Sunday shows hosted or interviewed three Republicans about climate change and only one Democrat, last year Sunday shows invited six Democrats and seven Republicans on to discuss the issue. [Media Matters1/16/14]

Sunday Shows Broadened Climate Coverage Beyond Politics. The Sunday shows increased the portion of their climate change coverage driven by topics other than politics. In 2013, 73 percent of climate change coverage on Sunday shows was driven by politics. Over the last year, just over half of climate change coverage on Sunday shows was driven by politics, with about 19 percent of the remaining coverage driven by discussions of scientific findings and about 29 percent by climate change's impacts on extreme weather events or wildlife.

 What Topics Drove Climate Change Coverage On Sunday Shows

Sunday Shows Interviewed More Scientists, But It Remained A Relatively Rare Occurrence. In 2013, CBS' Face the Nation became the first Sunday show in five years to interview a scientist on the topic of climate change. Last year improved upon that trend, with all of the major networks except Fox hosting or quoting scientists on climate change. However, scientists still accounted for just 16 percent of the guests discussing climate change on Sunday shows. [Media Matters1/16/14]

Who Did The Sunday Shows Host Or Quote On Climate Change

Most Sunday Shows Provided A Platform For False Balance On Climate Science. With the exception of CBS' Face the Nation, all of the Sunday shows aired segments that misled audiences about the scientific consensus and threat of manmade climate change by providing false balance. In total, approximately 62 percent of the climate coverage on NBC's Meet the Press, 47 percent of the climate coverage on Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, and 40 percent of the climate coverage on ABC's This Week provided false balance. For example:

  • On the February 16 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, David Gregory hosted Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Bill Nye, "the Science Guy," for a discussion on the politics of climate change and whether extreme weather events can be attributed to climate change. Blackburn argued that "there is not consensus" among the scientific community on climate change and warned against enacting legislation to address climate change based on "hypotheses or theories or unproven sciences." [Media Matters7/21/14]
  • A later segment on the same show featured the Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels denying the impacts of climate change on extreme weather. Michaels claimed that once adjustments are made for increased global population, "there's no change in weather-related damages" attributable to climate change. [NBC, Meet the Press, 2/16/14 via Nexis]
  • On its February 16 show, Fox News Sunday hosted a panel discussion comprised of frequent climate misinformer George Will and others dismissing the scientific consensus on climate change. During the segment, Will said that he doesn't "buy" the president's focus on global warming because "the climate is always changing," and Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel argued that the term "global warming" became "climate change" because "you couldn't prove that there was much global warming anymore... as the temperature didn't change." [Fox News Sunday, 2/16/14, via Media Matters]
  • ABC's This Week provided North Carolina Gov. Pat McCory a platform to deny the scientific consensus that human activity has been the main cause of the current global warming trend. When host George Stephanopoulos asked McCrory whether he truly believed his past statement that "climate change is in God's hands," McCrory deflected from answering the question, stating, "I think the big debate is how much of it is manmade and how much it will just naturally happen as Earth evolves." [This Week, 2/16/14 via Nexis]

False Balance

Despite Overall Increase In Networks' Climate Coverage, Coverage On Nightly News Programs Dropped

Nightly News Shows' Total Climate Coverage Decreased, But Remained Around Six-Year Average. Combined coverage of climate change on the major networks' nightly news programs decreased from 2013 to 2014 but remained around the average for the last six years. Scientific findings and climate change's impacts on extreme weather events or wildlife were the two most frequent topics of coverage on the nightly news programs, making up approximately 49 percent and 32 percent of their climate change coverage, respectively.

CBS' Evening News Program Outpaced Other Networks. Among the nightly news programs, CBS Evening News devoted the most airtime to climate change with roughly 35 minutes. CBS Evening News also featured scientists in its coverage the most, interviewing or quoting scientists 11 times in its 22 climate-related segments.

Climate Coverage On NBC Nightly News Dropped Drastically, But Was Still More Extensive Than ABC's World News Tonight. After leading the major networks with roughly 52 minutes of climate change coverage in 2013, NBC Nightly News decreased its coverage by more than half to about 25 minutes. But NBC Nightly News still devoted more airtime to climate change than ABC's World News Tonight, which aired roughly 13 minutes of climate coverage. Fox Broadcasting Co. does not have a nightly news program.

Methodology

This report analyzes coverage of "climate change" or "global warming" between January 1, 2014, and December 31, 2014, 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 TonightCBS 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 a definitive statement about climate change). Timestamps were acquired from IQ Media and the Internet Archive's online database and were applied generously for nightly news segments. For instance, if a nightly news segment about an extreme weather event mentioned climate change briefly, the entire segment was counted as climate coverage. However, for the Sunday shows, which often feature wide-ranging discussions on multiple topics, we only used the relevant portion of such conversations. All coverage figures have been rounded to the nearest minute. 

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