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American Newspapers Give Far More Coverage To Climate Deniers And Skeptics Than Other Countries

By Stephen Lacey  

"American Newspapers Give Far More Coverage To Climate Deniers And Skeptics Than Other Countries"

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America is unique when it comes to giving a platform to climate deniers and skeptics.

According to a new analysis of data released last year, American newspapers are far more likely to publish uncontested claims from climate deniers, many of whom challenge whether the planet is warming at all and are “almost exclusively found” in the U.S. media. The study was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The researchers were trying to answer three important questions: Is climate denial and disinformation as prevalent in the newspapers outside America? Is it mostly right-wing papers publishing these pieces? And what types of skeptics are being published in different countries?

In all three categories, the U.S. emerged as a unique leader in promoting climate denial in the press.

The newspapers surveyed were Folha de São Paulo and Estado de São Paulo in Brazil; People’s Daily and Beijing Evening News in China;  Le Monde and Le Figaro in France; The Hindu and Times of India in India; the Guardian/Observer and the Daily/Sunday Telegraph in the United Kingdom; and the New York Times and Wall Street Journal in America. The researchers looked at stories between 2009 and 2010, when the so-called “climategate” story was unfolding. They also compared their findings to coverage in 2007, when the IPCC released its assessment of climate science.

In both periods, the percentage of articles containing voices questioning man-made global warming in the U.S. were dramatically higher than other countries. Here’s a chart illustrating 2009 coverage:

The US newspapers had the largest number of articles in percentage terms (34%) which contained skeptical voices over the period examined, and nearly double the next country which was the UK at 19%. The Chinese newspapers came next with 7% of all articles, although the figures were taken from a low base. India and France followed with roughly 6%, with Brazil last at 3%. So, despite the high number of articles in the Indian and Brazilian press covering the issue, a very low percentage of these included skeptical voices.

So did the political leaning of a newspaper influence its coverage? It’s actually a very mixed picture. When factoring in non-opinion articles, the researchers actually found slightly more articles quoting climate skeptics or deniers in left-leaning newspapers than in right-leaning papers. But when looking at opinion pages, the articles tend to fall within traditional ideological camps — with far more right-leaning publications featuring “uncontested” skeptical voices than left-leaning ones. While France and the UK experienced a similar trend, the U.S. was the leader in this area as well:

In conclusion, we can say that from our sample, there is little evidence for much difference in the percentage of articles containing skeptical voices between left-leaning and right-leaning or centrist newspapers in Brazil, France and India. However, in the USA and the UK, where skeptical voices generally appear in much higher numbers, the differences are more marked. The strongest evidence for a distinction between left-leaning and right-leaning newspapers can be found in the opinion pages in France, the UK and the USA, where right-leaning newspapers are much more likely to include uncontested skeptical voices.

So what kind of voices are being published in these papers? The findings here are also mixed. The researchers break down skeptics into three categories: Those who completely deny the planet is warming (trend skeptics); those who accept that the planet is warming, but question if it’s caused by humans (attribution skeptics); and those who falsely claim that increasing CO2 emissions and a warming planet will be a good thing (impact skeptics).

In Brazil, China, France, India, and the UK, we see a mix of skeptics in the second and third categories who accept that the planet is warming, but question the cause and impact. In the U.S., we see a different trend: a much greater number of deniers who believe that there is no evidence that the planet is warming. (The researchers attribute this to the prominence of Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, the most outspoken climate denier in Congress, who often appears in news stories).

Such results would support the view that the USA is particularly notable for the presence of skeptics who question the need for strong climate change policy proposals.


The study, while only covering newspapers and only looking at two short time periods, shows that American climate denial is unique and more prevalent than in other countries, and that ideology does influence how the topic is covered. From the report’s conclusion:

There is some evidence for arguing that there is a strong correspondence between the political leaning of a newspaper and its willingness to quote or use uncontested skeptical voices in opinion pieces. The distinction between news pages and opinion pages is important as much of the skepticism in found in the latter category. In right-leaning newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and the Telegraph, there is very little uncontested skepticism in their news reporting.

There is also evidence for seeing a greater presence in the US media of the sort of skepticism which strongly attacks the scientific legitimacy of climate change policy proposals compared to all the other five countries (with the notable exception of the UK).

Along with the UK, Australia is another country seeing American-style climate denial in the press. A recent analysis from the Australian Center for Independent Journalism found that 73 percent of articles and opinion pieces published in 2011 on a proposed carbon price were negative.

“Some of Australia’s leading newspapers have been so negative in their reporting of the Gillard government’s carbon policy it’s fair to say they’ve campaigned against it rather than covered it,” concluded the author of the report.

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19 Responses to American Newspapers Give Far More Coverage To Climate Deniers And Skeptics Than Other Countries

  1. Mark48 says:

    OK, let’s see, what is common to the newspapers of the UK, USA, and Australia, other than the English language? Could this be an example of too much media control by one person?

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    Thanks for this piece, Stephen, very interesting. The only reason Britain’s figure is even half of ours is Murdoch’s ownership of multiple media outlets.

    The reason for our media’s enablement of denier views is simple corruption. Newspapers and television derive a large share of revenue from car and truck ads, along with other carbon intensive items. Media ownership is extremely concentrated in the US, especially in television. Ownership tends to be right wing. When they are less reactionary- as in Redstone’s Viacom- climate coverage is only marginally better, since there is no pressure to perform.

    When you read a climate article anywhere in the US- or watch a nature show on TV- you can see the hot breath of beancounters and careerist editors, who give a nod to the other side. It can be quite horrifying, and they even get to journalists who should be old and independent enough to take a stand, people like Jim Lehrer and David Attenborough.

    A key part of the problem is us. Our media is morally derelict, causing enormous suffering, and nobody is calling them on it in a systematic way (though Climate Progress does a very good job on key stories). A group of us is working on an organization to change this situation. If you want to help, I can be reached at mike.greenframe@gmail.com

    • Byron Smith says:

      Note that no Murdoch papers were included in the UK sample.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        Perhaps because they have been closed down, and the ‘journalists’ are all under arrest or police investigation?

        • Stephen Ogley says:

          Be careful what you say about that, 99% of the journalists are good honest working people. I think Murdoch’s involvement in this issue is a red herring. You have instead to look at the motivating force and funding. The chief proponent of climate scepticism in the UK is the best-selling Daily Mail newspaper, which gets most of its information from the GWPF. The GWPF is, in turn, driven by idealists in Chicago’s Heartland Institute whose motivation force is free-market liberal idealism. They are funded (in America) by corporate executives who look to gain an awful lot of money from stopping or delaying climate control (as they did with curbs on the sales of tobacco). In contrast, Murdoch can gain almost nothing from climate scepticism, in my opinion.

          • Harry Braun says:

            I agree with you that most journalists are good.

            However, Murdoch weeded out the ones that weren’t willing to play ball his way.

            Do you remember Murdoch’s pro-war stance?

            After the invasion of Iraq an enterprising journalist, Roy Greenslade, reviewed the editorial stance of the 175 Murdoch-owned newspapers worldwide. Each and every one of them supported the invasion.

            This is what Greenslade had to say:

            “After an exhaustive survey of the highest-selling and most influential papers across the world owned by Murdoch’s News Corporation, it is clear that all are singing from the same hymn sheet. Some are bellicose baritone soloists who relish the fight. Some prefer a less strident, if more subtle, role in the chorus. But none, whether fortissimo or pianissimo, has dared to croon the anti-war tune. Their master’s voice has never been questioned.”

            Murdoch doesn’t even pretend that the editors he employs are allowed to exercise independent judgment when it comes to questions of serious importance to him – like going to war for oil and global warming denial.

  3. Stephen Ogley says:

    I think the UK’s climate scepticism is likely to have been promoted by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a London-based climate sceptic thinktank. With relatively little funding, they are able to produce a fog of disinformation which is then fed into the media.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Relatively little (apparent) funding. I’m sure that ‘the chaps’ will not let them suffer for want of a few quid.

  4. catman306 says:

    Noam Chomsky: The Fate of Humanity Is at Stake — Why Are Romney and Obama Too Cowardly to Talk About What Really Matters?

    Our politicians show an extraordinary willingness to sacrifice the lives of our children and grandchildren for short-term gain.
    October 5, 2012 |

    With the quadrennial presidential election extravaganza reaching its peak, it’s useful to ask how the political campaigns are dealing with the most crucial issues we face. The simple answer is: badly, or not at all. If so, some important questions arise: why, and what can we do about it?

    There are two issues of overwhelming significance, because the fate of the species is at stake: environmental disaster, and nuclear war.

    http://www.alternet.org/election-2012/noam-chomsky-fate-humanity-stake-why-are-romney-and-obama-too-cowardly-talk-about-what?akid=9498.276045.IQCL1s&rd=1&src=newsletter722541&t=3

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      The two dangers are inextricably linked, because rapid climate destabilisation will lead to war, first genocidal campaigns against the powerless ‘useless eaters’, then inevitably, between the heavily-armed Top Dogs.

    • Dr. Strangegas says:

      Chomsky is suddenly aware there is a climate problem? When did this happen? Every time someone told me about some analysis by Chomsky over the last 25 years what I came away with was this clown has blinders on.

  5. Joan Savage says:

    As the study looked at news coverage in 2009 and 2010 when ‘climategate’ was in the news, I guess that may go a long way to explain why the total number of articles was greater in the UK than in the US.
    Since 2010 we’ve had press coverage of ‘extreme weather’ with or without tie-ins to climate change so it would be very neat to see if the complexion of comments has changed, particularly for the “trend skeptics.”

    Thanks to whoever came up with the three categories of trend skeptic, attribution skeptic and impact skeptic.

  6. Scott says:

    Jeez, this is simple. It’s a simple matter of capitalism. They’re owned by Republicans and they know who pays their bills.

  7. EDpeak says:

    Stephen, with appreciation for all your hard work, my one serious concern, and complaint is that term “skeptics” should be put in QUOTES. To not do so is, quite frankly, Offensive and future generations will shake their heads in disbelief at the pathetic situation that even we in the progressive community have been pushed to the point of adopting False framing and False language like “skeptics”.

    It should always be in either quotesm, or following the phrase “so-called”. We know perfectly well it is NOT the dictionary definition of skeptical that’s going on here we have nothing to apologize for if we do the right thing and stop using that term without quotes. We have a Lot to account for if we continue using this Mis-nomer.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      I’d go further and insist that the words ‘phony’, ‘fraudulent’, or ‘fake’ go before ‘sceptic’, in this circumstance, if only in the interest of truth and decency.

  8. Michael Valentine says:

    Lame stream American media giving you all the news they want you to know.

  9. cindy says:

    The study left out Murdoch-ruled Australian media, plus media in Eastern Europe, where climate scepticism is on the rise. Also Canada. Doesn’t really make sense to me.