As Midwestern states assess the damage wrought by record flooding in recent weeks, scientists tell Media Matters that the media has missed an important part of the story: the impact of climate change. A Media Matters analysis finds that less than 3 percent of television and print coverage of the flooding mentioned climate change, which has increased the frequency of large rain storms and exacerbated flood risks.
Seven out of eight scientists interviewed by Media Matters agreed that climate change is pertinent to coverage of recent flooding in the Midwest. Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer told Media Matters it is "not only appropriate, but advisable" for the press to note that rainstorms in the Midwest are increasing in frequency and that climate models "suggest this trend will continue," which will contribute to more flooding. Aquatic ecologist Don Scavia added that this is the "new normal," and that the media is "missing an important piece of information" by ignoring this trend.
Indeed, climate change has been almost entirely absent from national and local reporting on the floods. Only one of 74 television segments mentioned climate change, on CBS News. ABC, NBC and CNN never mentioned the connection.
Meanwhile, USA TODAY was the only national print outlet to report on Midwest floods in the context of climate change. USA TODAY also created a video, featured above, explaining the connection as part of a year-long series on the impacts of climate change.
The Midwest has experienced near record flooding this spring, resulting in four deaths, extensive property damage, and disruptions of agriculture and transportation. Evidence suggests that manmade climate change has increased the frequency of heavy downpours, and will continue to increase flooding risks. But in their ample coverage of Midwestern flooding, major media outlets rarely mentioned climate change.
Climate change was almost entirely absent from the political discourse this election season, receiving less than an hour of TV coverage over three months from the major cable and broadcast networks excluding MSNBC. By contrast, those outlets devoted nearly twice as much coverage to Vice President Joe Biden's demeanor during his debate with Rep. Paul Ryan. When climate change was addressed, print and TV media outlets often failed to note the scientific consensus or speak to scientists.
Media outlets continue to report that Sen. Joe Biden was accused in 1987 of plagiarizing then-British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock without noting that while Biden did paraphrase from a Kinnock speech without attribution on at least two occasions in August 1987, he had reportedly credited Kinnock when previously using the same language.
The Des Moines Register asserted that Sen. John McCain is a "supporter of comprehensive immigration reform" without noting that he now says he would not support his bill if it came up for a vote in the Senate, and that he has reversed himself on a key issue. Similarly, the Associated Press reported that "[t]he three leading candidates for president have somewhat similar views on illegal immigration reform," but did not note McCain's reversals.
A Des Moines Register article reported that Mitt Romney "defended the Bush administration's use of wiretaps to spy on suspected terrorists," quoting Romney asserting that President Bush "has done what was necessary here with the Patriot Act, as well as by listening in when al-Qaida was calling." But the article simply ignored the central issue in the debate: whether the government should have to obtain warrants to eavesdrop on communications involving people in the United States.
The Des Moines Register's endorsement of Sen. John McCain praised him for "taking stands based on principle, not party dogma," citing his positions on immigration reform and President Bush's tax cuts, among others. However, as noted in several reports, McCain has shifted his position on immigration reform and actually reversed his position on the tax cuts.