Climate Coverage Plummets 80% On Broadcast Networks From 2009 To 2011

Scientists Were Shut Out Of Climate Change Discussions On Sunday Shows

by Joceyln Fong and Jill Fitzsimmons, via Media Matters

A Media Matters analysis finds that news coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX has dropped significantly since 2009. In 2011, these networks spent more than twice as much time discussing Donald Trump as climate change.

Despite Ongoing Climate News, Broadcast Coverage Has Dropped Significantly. Since 2009, when the U.S. House of Representatives passed a climate bill and a major climate conference took place in Copenhagen, the amount of climate coverage on both the Sunday shows (Fox News Sunday, NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS’ Face the Nation, and ABC’s This Week) and the nightly news (NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News, and ABC World News) has declined tremendously. This drop comes despite a series of newsworthy stories related to climate change in 2010 and 2011, including a debate over comprehensive climate and energy legislation in the U.S. Senate, a series of record-breaking extreme weather events, notable developments in climate science, the rise of so-called “climate skeptics” in the House of Representatives, and a deal struck at the most recent UN climate summit in Durban, South Africa.

Sunday Show Coverage Of Climate Change Fell 90% Between 2009 And 2011. Since 2009, climate coverage on the Sunday shows has dropped every year across all networks. The Sunday shows spent over an hour on climate change in 2009, compared to 21 minutes in 2010 and only 9 minutes in 2011.

  • Fox News Sunday covered climate change the most, for just under an hour, but much of Fox’s coverage promoted the “Climategate” controversy and downplayed the threat of climate change. In fact, at no point did Fox News Sunday explicitly affirm the scientific consensus that human activity is changing the climate.
  • CBS’ Face the Nation covered climate change the least, for a total of just 4 minutes in 3 years.

Nightly News Coverage Decreased 72% Between 2009 And 2011. Coverage of climate change on the nightly news programs dropped from over 2 hours in 2009 to just 27 minutes in 2010 and 38 minutes in 2011.

  • NBC Nightly News covered climate change the most – for more than an hour and a half in 3 years.
  • CBS Evening News covered climate change the least, for a total of 40 minutes in 3 years.

Each Network Covered Donald Trump More Than Climate Change In 2011. Every program included in our analysis devoted more airtime to Donald Trump’s flirtation with a presidential run and birther antics than to climate change in 2011, with the exception of ABC World News, which gave equal time to the two topics. Together, the broadcast networks spent more than twice as much time covering Donald Trump. The discrepancy was most glaring on NBC’s Meet the Press, which devoted 23 minutes to Trump but did not cover climate change at all in 2011.

Sunday Shows Featured More Republicans Than Democrats On Climate Change. In total, 68% of the political figures interviewed or quoted by the Sunday shows were Republicans, and 32% were Democrats. In 2011, the only people interviewed or quoted about climate change on the Sunday shows were Republican politicians. Fox News Sunday was the most skewed, featuring eight Republicans and only two Democrats over the three years.

Scientists Were Shut Out Of Climate Change Discussions On Sunday Shows. Our study finds that the Sunday shows consulted political and media figures on climate change, but left scientists out of the discussion. Of those hosted or interviewed on climate change, 50% were political figures — including elected officials, strategists and advisers — 45% were media figures, and none were scientists. By comparison, 32% of those interviewed or quoted on the nightly news programs were political figures, and 20% were scientists.

Almost Every Mention Of Climate Change Was About Politics. Our results show that on the Sunday shows, 97% of stories mentioning climate change in the past three years were about politics in Washington, DC or on the campaign trail. One story — on Fox News Sunday — was driven by extreme weather, and none were driven by scientific findings.

Pew: Network Evening News “Remains An Extraordinarily Popular News Source For Americans.” From the Pew Research Center’s 2012 State of the News Media report:

For all the losses, however, the network evening news remains an extraordinarily popular news source for Americans. More than four times as many people watched the three network evening newscasts on ABC, CBS and NBC during the dinner hour than watched the highest-rated shows on the three cable news channels (CNN, Fox News and MSNBC) during prime time.

And more than twice as many people watch the lowest-rated broadcast evening news program (CBS Evening News) than watch the highest-rated cable news program (The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News). [Pew Research Center, accessed 4/12/12]

Sunday Shows Help Set Scope Of Official Debate In Washington. The Sunday shows occupy a singular place in the American media landscape. Their audience of a combined 9 million or so viewers includes virtually the entire journo-political establishment. The discussions held on the shows frequently determine the scope of official debate in Washington, legitimizing some views and — by nature of their absence — marginalizing others. [Media Matters, March 2007]


This report analyzes coverage of “climate change” or “global warming” between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2011, 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, CBS 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 or a definitive statement about climate change). Timestamps were acquired from Media Matters’ internal video archive and were applied generously. For instance, if a segment about an extreme weather event mentioned climate change briefly, the entire segment was counted as climate coverage. For those segments not available in our archive, we estimated the length of the segment based on its word count.

The following chart displays the coverage included in our study:

Jocelyn Fong and Jill Fitzsimmons are researchers with Media Matters for America. This piece was originally published at Media Matters and was reposted with permission.

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12 Responses to Climate Coverage Plummets 80% On Broadcast Networks From 2009 To 2011

  1. This reinforces my notion that we’re living in an age of greed and decadence. Republicans, who are the most misinformed are the most often quoted and the media focuses a disproportionate amount of attention on distractions.

  2. Paul Magnus says:


  3. The stupidification of the American media during election season, as foretold by Giblets:

    — frank

  4. Tom King says:

    The issue will return in new guises. Once international agreements are written to exclude trade with carbon economies, I’m sure there will be some media attention. Once food prices explode upwards, I’m sure there will be some media attention. Once the floods, droughts, and firestorms become unavoidable, I’m sure there be some media attention. It will be world of innuendo and euphemism, but the unnamed issue will be obvious.

  5. BBHY says:

    Maybe if Climate Scientists starting questioning people’s birth certificates…

  6. Peter says:

    The Media is in bargain with corporate America- this is a no brainer. Those fat ad revenues are making many media executives rich, as well as their shareholders. The Media will continue to ignore climate change to the bitter end.

    By then the Media bosses will be stormed at the gates- like the French did against their oligarchy in 1789.

  7. John Hartz says:

    How about a follow-up post about the annual amounts of advertising revenues that each broadcast network received from the fossil fuel industry during the same time period?

  8. karen says:

    Wanton criminals.

  9. SecularAnimist says:

    Tom King wrote: “Once the floods, droughts, and firestorms become unavoidable, I’m sure there be some media attention.”

    There is quite a lot of media attention to floods, droughts and firestorms already — although not always, as with the recent Katrina-like flooding of Nashville, which was largely ignored by the national media.

    The problem is that the corporate media REFUSES to discuss or even mention any connection between such events and global warming.

  10. Tom King says:

    SA, I don’t condone the media’s avoidance, I merely point out that ultimately it will fail and perhaps even backfire. I’ve dropped out of the mainstream media by reason of pure disgust. I’ve crossed the Rubicon from being a media junkie into being a shadow walker with low BS tolerance.

  11. ozajh says:

    I suppose you could argue that there is coverage of hot air in both cases.

  12. Mike Roddy says:

    I knew it was bad, but this is truly shocking. We need whatever the new media is to start openly challenging their competitors, and calling them the greed crazed puppets that they have become.