Evening News Programs, USA Today Ignore Climate Change Context Of Hurricane Matthew

››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

The broadcast networks' evening news programs did not address climate change in their coverage of Hurricane Matthew, even when they reported on an event where Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore explained the role that climate change played in worsening the storm's damage. USA Today also ignored the climate context of the storm, while other major newspapers covered it briefly in their print editions, and some published more extensive articles on their websites.

Hurricane Matthew’s Damage Worsened By Climate Change

Climate Signals: Global Warming Fueled Record-Breaking Rainfall And Increased Flooding. Climate Signals, an organization that maps the impacts of climate change, detailed the role global warming played in worsening Hurricane Matthew’s intensity and destruction:

Matthew set records for storm tide at multiple locations along the Southeastern United States, aided by sea level rise which significantly extended the reach of the storm surge. Record breaking rainfall was fueled in part by record-breaking levels of atmospheric moisture above the Southeastern U.S., reflecting the process by which climate change drives extreme precipitation. As global temperature increases, the capacity of the atmosphere to hold and dump more water grows. At the same time warming of the oceans increases evaporation, making more moisture available to the atmosphere. Matthew loosed an epic deluge in the Caribbean with one weather station in the Dominican Republic recording over 22 inches of rainfall over just 13 hours. Unusually warm seas also fueled Matthew's rapid intensification and sustained the hurricane which broke the record for maintaining Cat 4/5 strength in October. Matthew first spun up into a hurricane on September 29, surging from a tropical storm into a Category 5 hurricane in just 36 hours, a stunning development consistent with the observed trend toward rapidly intensifying tropical cyclones. [Climate Signals, 10/13/16]

Evening News Programs Ignored Climate Change Context Of Hurricane Matthew

ABC, CBS, NBC, And PBS Nightly News Shows Did Not Address Global Warming While Reporting On Hurricane Matthew. The major broadcast networks’ nightly news programs all ignored the role of global warming in their extensive reporting on Hurricane Matthew, according to a search of Nexis transcripts. Each program briefly covered an October 11 campaign event in which Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore spoke out on the need for climate action, but none of those reports mentioned that Clinton and Gore each addressed the role of climate change in worsening the storm. ABC’s World News Tonight merely reported that Gore would focus “on a top millennial concern and his signature issue, climate change.” CBS Evening News reported, “Today, the Clinton campaign focused on climate change, and something that never seems to change -- the steady stream of leaked emails,” adding that the message of climate change was delivered “to young voters who have been slow to warm up to Clinton but who cite the environment as their number one issue.” And NBC Nightly News reported that Clinton and Gore were “targeting millennials and former Bernie Sanders supporters passionate about climate change,” and it aired footage of Clinton saying of Republican nominee Donald Trump, “We cannot risk putting a climate denier in the White House.” PBS NewsHour reported, “The event’s focus on climate change is part of a push for younger voters,” and it aired footage of Clinton stating, “I’m running against a guy who denies science, denies climate change, says it’s a hoax created by the Chinese.” In their speeches, Clinton said that “Hurricane Matthew was likely more destructive because of climate change,” and Gore noted that the sea level around Florida has risen 3 inches since Hurricane Andrew struck the region in 1992. [ABC, World News Tonight, 10/11/16; CBS, CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley, 10/11/16; NBC, NBC Nightly News, 10/11/16; PBS, PBS Newshour, 10/11/16; The Washington Post, 10/11/16]

USA Today Ignored Climate Context Of Hurricane Matthew, While Other Newspapers Provided Limited Coverage In Print Editions

USA Today Did Not Report On Hurricane Matthew’s Climate Context. USA Today has not published an article addressing the role of climate change in worsening Hurricane Matthew's impact. It did mention climate change in two online posts about Matt Drudge’s conspiracy theory that the government was “lying” about Hurricane Matthew’s strength “to make an exaggerated point on climate,” but neither post addressed the science linking the storm’s devastation to climate change. [USA Today, 10/7/1610/7/16]

WSJ Article Briefly Mentioned That Clinton “Pointed To Hurricane Matthew” While Discussing Climate Change Impacts. In an October 11 article that appeared in its print edition, The Wall Street Journal reported on Clinton and Gore’s remarks about climate change and noted that Clinton “pointed to Hurricane Matthew last week, which she said was made fiercer by a warmed ocean, with a storm surge more destructive because sea levels have risen.” [The Wall Street Journal, 10/11/16]

LA Times And Wash. Post Published Detailed Looks At Climate Context Online; Post Briefly Addressed It In Print Edition. In its print edition, The Washington Post briefly mentioned Hurricane Matthew’s climate context in an October 11 article about Clinton and Gore’s campaign event, stating, “Like Gore, Clinton said that the effects of Hurricane Matthew on Florida had been worse because of the ongoing effects of climate change.” The Post also published two online articles detailing the connection. On October 6, before Hurricane Matthew struck the U.S., the Post’s Chris Mooney wrote that while “no individual storm is causally attributable” to climate change, “when it comes to a storm like Matthew, there are reasons to think that the way we’re changing the planet is relevant to some attributes of the storm.” And in an October 11 post on Clinton and Gore’s comments, Mooney noted that climate scientist Michael Mann said Clinton’s remarks connecting Matthew to climate change were “absolutely” accurate, and Mooney also reported that sea level rise “means a hurricane that strikes Florida or the U.S. East Coast today will be doing so atop higher seas, with more potential to hurl the water inland.” The Los Angeles Times failed to cover the relationship between climate change and Hurricane Matthew in its print edition, but published a lengthy online article, which noted that “scientists say there is indisputable evidence that climate change increased the [flood] damage” caused by Hurricane Matthew, and added that the hurricane’s “broad threat is very much in line with climate change projections for the future.” The Los Angeles Times also published an online column by Michael Hiltzik, who wrote: “Tying climate change to specific weather events is difficult, but climatologists say that among the likely consequences of climate change is an increase in the frequency of Category 4 and 5 storms like Matthew. Sea level increases also will intensify the impact of storm surges such as those that struck the coast.” [The Washington Post, 10/11/1610/6/1610/11/16Los Angeles Times, 10/7/1610/10/16]

NY Times Addressed Climate Change In Editorial, Article, And Two Q&As About Hurricane Matthew. The New York Times published an editorial on October 7, after Hurricane Matthew devastated Haiti, which stated that the hurricane’s impacts on Florida could lead Republican Gov. Rick Scott “and his fellow Republicans to confront the reality and consequences of climate change, a subject he refuses to acknowledge, and the likelihood of even more powerful storms and rising seas.” The Times added: “Whether [Scott] and his party admit it or not, something very real has been causing parts of his state to keep sinking and other parts, from time to time, to get blown away.” Additionally, an October 11 Times article briefly noted that Clinton “cited the devastation in Florida and Haiti from Hurricane Matthew” while discussing climate change at the event with Gore. And Times reporter John Schwartz discussed the climate context of Hurricane Matthew in two question-and-answer pieces about the storm. In the first piece, published online on October 6, Schwartz reported that Massachusetts Institute of Technology climate scientist Kerry Emanuel said “the evidence suggested climate change would cause the strongest storms to grow even stronger, and to be more frequent.” In the second piece, published in the print edition on October 7, Schwartz noted that the “long-term trend” for how climate change will impact hurricanes is “not good,” and that climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe said warmer ocean temperatures are providing “a lot of power in the sea for hurricanes to draw on.” [The New York Times, 10/7/1610/11/1610/6/1610/7/16]

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