Study: Sunday Talk Shows Still Terrible At Covering Climate Change, Nightly News A Bit Better

A new study from Media Matters found that coverage of climate change on Sunday talk shows dropped to a four-year low in 2012, plummeting to a total of eight minutes from over 60 minutes in 2009.

This, despite the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s announcement that 2012 was officially the hottest year ever recorded for the lower 48 states, and that the year was the second-most extreme for weather. And of the Sunday shows’ meager coverage, none was driven by actual scientific developments.

Nightly news reports fared somewhat better. Their coverage is still severely depressed from what it was in 2009, but the amount of time devoted to climate in 2012 doubled from 2010, driven largely by coverage of extreme weather events:

Since 2009, climate coverage on the Sunday shows has declined every year. In 2012, the Sunday shows spent less than 8 minutes on climate change, down from 9 minutes in 2011, 21 minutes in 2010, and over an hour in 2009. The vast majority of coverage — 89 percent — was driven by politics, and none was driven by scientific findings. […]

The nightly news shows devoted just under an hour to climate change in 2012, up from 38 minutes in 2011 but significantly less than in 2009. Coverage was largely driven — 69 percent — by the extreme weather the U.S. experienced this year; 17 percent of coverage was driven by scientific findings and 12 percent was driven by political stories related to climate change. […]

Further illustrating how Sunday shows cover climate change as a political dispute rather than an ongoing scientific story, not one person quoted by them on the topic in 2012 was a scientist. According to the study, 54 percent were media figures, and 31 percent were politicians. Just as remarkably, over half the Sunday shows’ mentions of climate were Republicans criticizing efforts to address the problem — Rick Santorum went so far as to call global warming “junk science” on ABC’s This Week, without critique or push-back — and not once was a Democratic politician quoted. Finally, a mere 11 percent of the Sunday shows’ coverage implied there is a scientific consensus on global warming, and 44 percent failed to challenge a guest who questioned the science.

Once again, the nightly news reports bested their higher-profile Sunday competitors. Of the politicians they quoted in 2012, Republicans still dominated at 60 percent, but Democrats made up the other 40 percent. More encouragingly, two-thirds of the total interviews and quotes offered up by the nightly news that year regarding climate change were from scientists. And 60 percent of their coverage mentioned the scientific consensus.

This is all consistent with other studies: In 2012, the Checks and Balances Project determined that across sixty major news outlets over five years, print media coverage quoting sources funded by fossil fuel interests mentioned those ties only 6 percent of the time.

In 2011, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting found that media coverage of extreme weather events downplayed the role of climate change. That same year, an independent review of the BBC concluded that a fixation on appearing “impartial” and “balanced” had led the organization to vastly overstate the level of disagreement within the scientific community over the reality of climate change.

And in a 2011 moment of out-and-out self-parody, the New York Times allowed its coverage of global warming to collapse after peaking in 2006 and 2007, then published a large front page Sunday Review article asking “Where Did Global Warming Go?”

10 Responses to Study: Sunday Talk Shows Still Terrible At Covering Climate Change, Nightly News A Bit Better

  1. Kyle Sager says:

    Survey the shows funding/sponsorship for 6 months: You will discover that a hugely disproportionate amount of advertising is Big Oil, natural gas, Big Utilities, and Big Trucks. They are bought.

  2. Kyle Sager says:

    The sponsorship normative behavior proves: These media outlets have sold controversial issues and deliberately distort key issues to the disservice of America. The shear volume of fossil fuel intensive ads across sectors is shameful. The shows reinforce negative values for pay.

  3. Leif says:

    It is clear that the Media follow the money not the morals. They have the audacity to call themselves “Journalists.” What a joke.

  4. wili says:

    Michael Mann and Katherine Hayhoe just spoke for an hour on NPR about CC. Did a nice job, I thought. Good Q&A session at the end, too.

  5. tim bastable says:

    I saw the comment accompanying this post on facebook – “Let’s stop framing climate as a political issue, and as a real scientific issue.” – my initial thought was “what are you talking about – its the most political issue of the millennium” – but I realise there’s a huge difference in attitudes Europe and the USA – here the science is well accepted but political action to tackle the problem is limited and, certainly in the UK going into reverse. I assume that you mean “stop politicising the science” rather than “stop treating climate change as a political issue”!

  6. Nell says:

    I DVR Up with Chris Hayes. He’s really into covering climate change.

  7. There is definitely an increase in coverage, but it seems limited to traditionally leftists / populist sources. Nell mentione Up with Chris Hayes. I could also add that Rachel Maddow (also from MSNBC) aimed a bit of sarcasm last night in talking about changes in climate in Australia, but pointing out that there was no mention of fossil fuels. Than, Bill Moyers has hit the issue this month with Anthony Leiserowitz featured on a show Jan 4. However, Maddow and Moyers are easily dismissed by the right wing deniers as typical lefty socialist propagandists.

    We will not be successful until it is in the financial news. We should go after NBR or Jim Cramer (CNBC) or Your Mondey with Ali Velsi (CNN). If this is key to our financial future, then they should be covering it.

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain says:


  9. JEFF says:

    One reason the U.S. doesn’t devote time to Climate Charge is because of people like sweater vest Santorum and his followers. They will not even acknowledge that the earth is more than 6,000 years old and went through many changes in it’s existence. Perhaps we are in another cycle of change, but we don’t need to help it along.

  10. TKPGH says:

    I, too like Chris Hayes’ show for the coverage of climate and energy issues, but the problem is, how do we get the rest of the public to watch? MSNBC doesn’t command the kind of audience we need to make a dent in the problem.
    This brings up something I’ve been wondering about: why is is that left-leaning media just doesn’t seem to last? Air America didn’t last long, and now Current is about to disappear. Is it the hatchet job the Right has done on liberal values, or what? With the massive inequity in our society, along with the general deterioration of our democracy, you would think that people would be flocking to liberal causes and groups, but the opposite seems to be true.