In 2014, PBS NewsHour provided far more climate change-related segments and interviewed far more climate scientists than the nightly news programs at ABC and NBC, while also outperforming CBS. Additionally, like CBS Evening News, PBS NewsHour managed to avoid airing any segments that provided a platform for climate science deniers, whereas NBC Nightly News and ABC's World News Tonight both featured a segment in which a guest either denied that climate change is occurring or questioned the scientific findings of the National Climate Assessment.
Although it airs for twice as long as its broadcast network counterparts, PBS NewsHour's number of climate segments and scientists more than made up for this difference, particularly in comparison to ABC's World News Tonight. PBS NewsHour, which runs for 60 minutes, aired 45 reports last year that covered climate change. By comparison, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and ABC's World News Tonight, which are each 30 minute programs, aired 22, 14, and 11 climate-related reports in 2014, respectively. PBS NewsHour's 45 climate-related reports were a substantial increase over 2013, when the program aired 35 such reports.
PBS NewsHour also provided scientific perspectives in climate change stories more often than any of the other major networks, interviewing or quoting 27 scientists over the course of the year. In comparison, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News interviewed or quoted 11 and 7 scientists, respectively, while ABC's World News Tonight interviewed or quoted just two scientists.
Scientists lent their insight on a range of topics on PBS NewsHour, providing perspective on landmark reports on climate change, describing the impact of climate change on wildlife habitats, and illustrating how climate change is already having an impact on communities in places as disparate as Alaska and Florida. For example, in a two-part special on climate change's impacts in Alaska, PBS NewsHour interviewed paleoclimatologists, geophysicists, oceanographers, and ecologists to detail how climate change is threatening local wildlife and a centuries-old way of life for many Alaskans.
The recent announcement by NOAA and NASA that 2014 was the warmest year on record should serve as the starkest reminder yet that climate change is an issue deserving of mainstream media coverage. The networks' nightly news programs -- and ABC's World News Tonight in particular -- would do well to follow PBS NewsHour's lead by improving the quality and quantity of their climate change coverage.
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.
Coverage of the economy on weeknight television news shows during the last six months of 2014 continued to focus heavily on policies meant to boost job creation and economic growth, but discussions overwhelmingly lacked input from actual economists. Additionally, a Media Matters analysis uncovered a relative decline in the number of segments promoting the conservative media myths that Obamacare and increasing the minimum wage hurt the labor market.
This January marks the fifth anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 Supreme Court case that expanded the idea of "corporate personhood" by ruling that the First Amendment protects a corporation's right to make unlimited expenditures in support of political candidates as a form of speech. Network news coverage of its legal impact, however, has largely ignored how the Supreme Court continues to aggressively expand the decision.
This expansion of corporate rights has wide-ranging consequences, even outside of the context of campaign finance deregulation. The court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, for example, seemed to embrace the idea that corporations are capable of morally objecting to contraception coverage, co-opting yet another constitutional right -- that of religion -- that had previously been reserved for people, not businesses.
In terms of election law, the conservative justices further dismantled campaign finance restrictions in 2014's McCutcheon v. FEC, which struck down aggregate campaign donation limits and allowed wealthy donors to contribute money to a virtually unlimited number of candidates and political parties. The court will hear yet another campaign finance case on January 20 called Williams-Yulee v. the Florida Bar, which could strike down a Florida rule that prohibits judicial candidates from directly soliciting money from donors -- a rule that was put in place in response to a serious corruption scandal that resulted in the resignations of four Florida Supreme Court justices.
Yet despite the cascade of decisions from conservative justices intent on dismantling campaign finance regulations and rewriting corporate rights -- and the majority of Americans who support a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United -- the media have largely underreported this story.
Here are four graphics that illustrate this failure.
Major network newscasts have given almost no coverage to an upcoming Supreme Court case that will decide whether judicial candidates can personally solicit campaign donations -- despite the risk of corruption.
On January 20, the court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, in which a candidate for an elected county judge position -- Lanell Williams-Yulee -- sent out a fundraising letter that she signed herself. As in the majority of states, judicial candidates in Florida are prohibited from sending out this kind of direct solicitation to prevent the appearance or risk of corruption. Instead, they are required to set up separate campaign committees to send out fundraising requests on their behalf. The Florida Bar filed a complaint against Williams-Yulee, who was ultimately reprimanded and fined. Williams-Yulee is now arguing that the ethical rule restricting her ability to ask for donations is an unconstitutional restriction of her free speech, an extension of the argument validated by the conservative justices in Citizens United and its progeny.
This case gives the conservative justices of the Supreme Court yet another chance to roll back restrictions on campaign finance -- which they have steadily gutted since 2010's Citizens United decision allowing millions of dollars to flood the federal election system. Most recently, the court struck down aggregate campaign limits in 2014's McCutcheon v. FEC, making it easier for wealthy donors to contribute to a virtually unlimited number of candidates and political parties.
Yet a Media Matters analysis of Sunday morning talk shows (ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press) as well as nightly news programs (ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News, NBC's Nightly News, and PBS NewsHour) reveals just one segment that covered the Williams-Yulee case since it was appealed to the Supreme Court -- the October 2 edition of PBS NewsHour.
Media coverage of an omnibus spending bill that rolled back key financial services regulations ignored the amount of money the financial services industry spent helping elect members of Congress in 2014. In fact, the industry lobbying to eliminate the regulation spent $436 million on federal candidates during the midterm elections.
CBS Evening News reported on the role of dark money -- spending on political campaigns by outside groups in which either no donors are disclosed or some donors are disclosed -- in key senate elections during the 2014 midterm elections without noting that conservative dark money spending far outpaced that of Democrats, giving viewers a distorted view of who benefited from this controversial spending in 2014.
A Media Matters study on the coverage of key policy issues in nightly news' midterm election broadcasts finds that 65 percent of network news segments that dealt with the midterm elections failed to discuss the policy issues most important to the American people.
A recent CBS Evening News report on unnecessarily strict voter ID laws engaged in the sort of "he said, she said" reporting that ignores the virtual non-existence of in-person voter fraud, a type of false equivalence that media critics have widely condemned.
On October 9, the Supreme Court issued an order that prevented Wisconsin's voter ID law -- one of the strictest in the nation -- from going into effect just weeks before the November elections. Opponents of the law argued that the new identification requirements were not only unconstitutional but would have caused "chaos" at polling places and could have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of voters who lacked the appropriate ID. A similarly restrictive voter ID law was struck down by a federal judge in Texas that same day, with the judge calling the law an "unconstitutional poll tax" that unfairly discriminated against the poor and people of color.
These types of strict voter ID laws are popular among Republican lawmakers, despite the fact that they are redundant and there is no evidence of widespread, in-person voter fraud -- the type of fraud voter ID laws are designed to prevent. Nevertheless, on the October 10 edition of CBS Evening News, correspondent Chip Reid's segment on the recent legal decisions affecting Texas and Wisconsin's voter ID laws failed to report this simple truth about voter suppression:
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is criticizing the major news networks' lack of coverage of big money in politics, saying he is "disappointed, but not surprised ... that the networks barely covered the issue."
Sanders' press release comes after a recent Media Matters study found that the subject of campaign finance reform was hardly reported on by either the major networks' evening news programs (ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News, and NBC's Nightly News) or their Sunday talk shows (ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press). These news programs also largely overlooked the Senate's proposed (and ultimately filibustered) constitutional amendment that would have restored Congress' ability to regulate political spending after the conservative justices of the Supreme Court gutted bipartisan campaign finance law in 2010's Citizens United v. FEC and this year's McCutcheon v. FEC.
Although most of the networks seldom covered the issue, PBS NewsHour, on the other hand, set the standard and broadcast numerous in-depth segments on campaign finance reform, big money in politics, and the Supreme Court decisions that have invited billions of dollars to flow into the federal election system. In fact, PBS NewsHour offered more campaign finance coverage than the other networks combined.
In response to these findings, Sanders called on the media to dedicate more coverage to what he called "the single most important issue facing our country today" and suggested that the networks' insufficient coverage has contributed to the decline of Americans' confidence in the media:
"I am disappointed, but not surprised, by the study's finding that the major networks barely covered the issue of money in politics," said Sen. Bernie Sanders. "There is a reason why confidence in the American media is declining," he added. "More and more people say the media is not paying attention to the issues of real importance to the American people. This study confirms that."
The study found that each network devoted less than single minute per month to talking about campaign finance reform. "To my mind," Sanders said, "the single most important issue facing our country today is that, as a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, we are allowing billionaires to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to elect candidates who will represent the wealthy and powerful rather than the needs of ordinary Americans. This is an issue of enormous consequence."
Sanders cited a recent Gallup poll that found Americans' faith in television news and newspapers is at or tied with record lows. The findings continued a decades-long decline in the share of Americans saying they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in newspapers or TV news.
A Media Matters analysis found that PBS NewsHour has far outpaced other broadcast network news programs in covering the consequences of the Supreme Court's dismantling of campaign finance reform. In the past year and a half, PBS thoroughly analyzed the effects of Citizens United and its sequel -- McCutcheon v. FEC -- dedicating more time to the issue than all the other networks combined.
Nightly network newscasts and Sunday morning talk shows have largely failed to connect two recent Supreme Court decisions to Citizens United v. FEC, the case that radically expanded the legal concept of "corporate personhood" -- the idea that corporations have constitutional rights. This has left viewers with an incomplete understanding of how the Court applied this dangerous precedent to campaign finance and reproductive rights law.
A Media Matters study found that most network nightly news programs this year are on track to offer no more coverage of global warming than they did in 2013. However, PBS NewsHour remains a notable exception, covering climate change more than any other network and interviewing the largest number of scientists on the topic.
During the first six months of 2014, PBS NewsHour produced more news that featured climate change than any other major network evening broadcast, continuing a trend that Media Matters identified in both 2012 and 2013. The program aired 28 stories that at least mentioned global warming, nearly as much as all coverage combined from ABC World News, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News during the same period, and four times the amount of coverage from ABC World News alone. Among all major nightly news programs, ABC by far offered its viewers the least coverage that gave any substantial mention of global warming, with only seven stories. While it is worth noting that NewsHour is an hour-long broadcast compared to the half hour broadcasts on the other networks, it nonetheless offered more than double the number of stories offered by its closest network news competitor, CBS Evening News.
ABC World News' lack of climate coverage so far this year correlates with its 2013 coverage when the program aired the fewest stories among all network nightly news shows, a flip in coverage from 2012 when the network was second only to PBS in such coverage.
Of the 28 stories that PBS NewsHour aired, 16 were segments focused on global warming. PBS NewsHour's coverage offered analysis of significant policy developments and major international reports, such as the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed carbon pollution standards and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report that found climate change already has taken a toll on the planet and warned that food security and economic growth would be undermined if carbon pollution is not drastically cut. The program also connected unusual events, such as diseased starfish in the Pacific Northwest and coastal flooding on Alaska's North Slope, to the broader climate context.
More scientists were interviewed about climate change on PBS NewsHour than on any other network nightly news broadcast. During the first six months of the year, the NewsHour featured 14 scientists in its reports on global warming, nearly as many as the combined total of 16 scientists who appeared on all nightly news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC. For an issue firmly based in scientific research and evidence, PBS NewsHour relied heavily on scientists, only turning to six media figures and six politicians during the first half of 2014.
This report analyzes news coverage of "climate change" and "global warming" that aired on PBS NewsHour, ABC World News, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News between January 1, 2014, and June 30, 2014. 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). Transcripts from Nexis and Media Matters' internal video archives, as well as the Internet Archive online database, were used to collect these stories.
A Media Matters analysis finds that the Sunday shows covered climate change more in the first half of 2014 than in the last four years combined, following a push from nine U.S. Senators for increased coverage. Although these shows gave the issue more coverage, at times they used false balance, enshrouding the scientific consensus surrounding climate change.
CNN, Fox News, and evening news shows on NBC, ABC, and CBS largely ignored a June 23 report by the New York Times that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's (R) administration may be tied to a second bridge investigation involving possible securities law violations.