As some of the most destructive wildfires in history ravage the Southwest, major newspapers in the area have documented the way climate change makes blazes more likely less than half as often as national newspapers.
Recent fires have taken a massive toll as the hottest, driest parts of the U.S. become even hotter and drier. In Arizona, 19 firefighters perished in the worst American wildfire disaster in decades, a quick-moving inferno that destroyed a small town. Months ago, fire season began early in California, and it has since been called the state's worst ever. Colorado recently experienced the most destructive wildfire in its history, bringing the total area set aflame this season within the state to about 180 square miles, larger than the area of Barbados. New Mexico and Utah have lately faced "unprecedented" and "potentially explosive" fires, respectively.
Fires like these must be sparked (by anything from lightning to a stray rifle shot), but research indicates that climate change, and the extreme heat and drought conditions it propagates in the Southwest, boosts the chances that they will happen and cause significant damage. Indeed, seven out of nine fire scientists contacted by Media Matters as part of a 2012 study agreed that journalists should detail the role of climate change in worsening risk when they report on such fires.
As wildfires swept through southern California over the past week, experts warned that the state is in for an especially dangerous wildfire season due to unusually hot and dry conditions. But in their coverage of the fires, several of California's major newspapers have entirely ignored how climate change has increased wildfire risks in the region.
California's wildfire season kicked off early this year, with record temperatures, heavy winds and ongoing drought conditions fueling fires across the state that have threatened thousands of homes and businesses. California has already experienced 680 wildfires this year -- about 200 more than average for this period -- and the National Interagency Fire Service is predicting "above normal" potential for significant fires in northern and southern California this season. Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service is preparing for a higher number of significant fires across the West.
Climate experts warn that rising global temperatures are already leading to more frequent and more severe wildfires and longer fire seasons in the Southwest, calling large fires like those in California "the new normal." But several major print outlets in California have failed to make this connection, even after Governor Jerry Brown noted the link Monday.
The San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and U-T San Diego have not mentioned climate change while reporting on the recent fires. These papers also printed several stories from the Associated Press, none of which mentioned climate change. By contrast, the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times mentioned climate change in 33 percent and 27 percent of coverage, respectively.
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.
Harold Ford and John Sununu penned an op-ed for the San Jose Mercury News this week that has something to do with Netflix and the internet and fairness. It's possible that there is a point buried somewhere in its ham-fisted analogies and confused understanding of how broadband services work, but I'm struggling to see it.
Netflix, they write, eats up a lot of bandwidth with its unlimited streaming content package, and broadband users who don't subscribe to Netflix end up being indirectly charged when those movies are downloaded:
Obviously these massive transmissions over the Internet are not really free. Someone is paying for them. That "someone" is the millions of broadband subscribers, whether or not they are Netflix customers.
How is that fair?
Netflix argues that the marginal cost to the network providers of streaming a half-hour TV show to a residential customer is "one penny." This ignores the hundreds of billions of dollars in sunken network investments needed to create that one-penny marginal cost efficiency at the customer's end.
Netflix is getting a "free ride," they say, and the solution is "an approach that is more socially responsible and fair." Steadfastly avoiding anything that approaches specificity, their prescription is "a fairer pricing model" for internet service providers "and a more realistic long-term investment strategy."
Okay, so the problem lies with the ISPs? Apparently not, because they conclude the op-ed with another dig at Netflix:
No one questions that Netflix provides a valuable service to its customers. But many increasingly question a service that forces tens of millions of non-customers to pay for something they never use.
As Matt Yglesias points out, the argument they're making, which still isn't all that clear, really has nothing to do with Netflix. The popularity of the Netflix all-you-can-download package is due in large part to the fact that ISPs choose to sell broadband plans that allow unlimited data usage. If ISPs wanted to charge customers who use up lots of network capacity by watching online movies or visiting YouTube or guzzling data in some other way, they would. But they don't.
Ford and Sununu are the honorary co-chairs of the anti-net neutrality group Broadband For America, and it's possible that their op-ed was intended to be an oblique hit on the FCC's net neutrality rules. But the rules don't prohibit ISPs from charging more for faster internet access, which seems to be what Ford and Sununu are advocating and inexplicably criticizing Netflix over.
So that's what we're left with: an op-ed so bizarre that you can't even make up a point for it.
While reporting on California Secretary of State Debra Bowen's decision to decertify the state's electronic voting machines in light of a study that found the systems are vulnerable to security breaches, numerous media outlets attacked the study's "unrealistic" methodology or uncritically reported criticism of the study's premise, without noting the researchers' explanation for their methods.