"Silence of the Lambs: Media herd’s coverage of climate change “fell off the map” in 2010"
The NY Times and others blow the story of the century
The danger posed to the nation and the world by unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases is truly the greatest story never told.
We had jaw-dropping science in 2010 (A stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice). We had gripping climatic disasters (Masters: “The stunning extremes we witnessed gives me concern that our climate is showing the early signs of instability”; Munich Re: “The only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change”). And we even had major political theater — domestic (The failed presidency of Barack Obama, Part 1 and Part 2) and international (see The Cancun Compromise).
But, as we’ll see, the one-time paper of record didn’t have climate change in a single one of its largest lead headlines. And analyses of multiple databases reveal that the rest of the media sheepishly returned to 2005 levels of coverage. The Daily Climate’s Douglas Fischer reports:
Media coverage of climate change in 2010 slipped to levels not seen since 2005, after spiking in in late 2009 in the run-up to the much-hyped United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen and the release of private emails from climate scientists stored on a English university server..
Analysis of DailyClimate.org’s archive of global media coverage shows that journalists published 23,156 climate-related stories in English last year — a 30 percent drop from ’09’s tally.
Those stories came from 8,710 different reporters, columnists and editorial writers at 1,552 different media outlets. Last year, according to the Web site’s database, more than 11,000 reporters tackled the subject – a 22 percent drop for 2010.
Despite the trend, some outlets and reporters remain prolific. Reuters again lead the pack, publishing 1,683 stories last year – 4.6 stories a day. The New York Times had 1,116; the London Guardian, 941; the Associated Press, 793.
But for network news and other mainstream outlets, the trend was down, down, down.
Before continuing, it must be noted that mere lack of quantity is only one of the many unconscionable failings by the media. If the coverage continues to be as bad as it was in 2010, increasing it won’t change anything (see “And the 2010 Citizen Kane award for non-excellence in climate journalism goes to “¦” and “How the status quo media failed on climate change“). The major flaws in climate science coverage are:
- Insufficient coverage for what is the story of the year, decade, and century, which is all but certain to be the story of the millennium if the media keeps ignoring it.
- Insufficient visibility for the coverage that there is (see, for instance, NYT headlines below) and prominence given to the ‘teach the controversy’ crap (see N.Y. Times Faces Credibility Siege over Unbalanced Climate Coverage: One oft-quoted communications expert calls this front-page attack on the IPCC, “the worst, one sided reporting I have ever seen”).
- False ‘balance” in individual stories. One of the most documented flaws. Can be balancing real climate scientists with ones who have been widely discredited or with non-scientists [see In yet another front-page journalistic lapse, the NY Times once again equates non-scientists “” Bastardi, Coleman, and Watts (!) “” with climate scientists]. Or it can be the classic misrepresentation of what the business-as-usual case is (i.e. multiple catastrophes), so the public gets the impression that the two likeliest outcomes are a very low sensitivity and low emissions (denier spin) versus moderate (fast-feedbacks) sensitivity and moderate emissions (the middle of the IPCC scenarios, without explaining this would require aggressive mitigation starting now) — see the NYT’s “Climate Change and ‘Balanced’ Coverage.”
- False balance in story choice. This is actually one of the biggest, but least discussed, problems. In a AAAS presentation last year, the late William R. Freudenburg of UC Santa Barbara discussed his research on “the Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge“: New scientific findings are found to be more than twenty times as likely to indicate that global climate disruption is “worse than previously expected,” rather than “not as bad as previously expected.” Reporting science that confirms the IPCC that it is warming and humans are probably the cause or that confirms things are worse than the IPCC said is not ‘news’. But that one in 20 study that (often misinterpreted) ‘confirms’ scientists were exaggerating, well, that is news (see “The non-hype about climate change (and malaria)“). It’d be interesting, but difficult, to analyze this. My rough estimate is that the media probably turns the 20-to-1 ratio to a 2-to-1 ratio.
- Failure to connect the dots (see CNN, ABC, WashPost, AP, blow Australian wildfire, drought, heatwave “Hell (and High Water) on Earth” story “” never mention climate change). Stories on the bark beetle devastation that don’t mention global warming are rampant [see Signs of global warming are everywhere, but if the New York Times can’t tell the (bark beetle) story (twice!), how will the public hear it?] Stories on 1-in-a-1000-year deluge that don’t mention climate change or the increase in water vapor available for superstorms — assuming the media bothers to cover a story like Nashville’s Katrina, which wasn’t on the coasts, or Pakistan, which is a distant land, and thus of secondary interest (see Juan Cole: The media’s failure to cover “the great Pakistani deluge” is “itself a security threat” to America).
Here’s more from the Daily Climate:
Drexel University professor Robert Brulle has analyzed nightly network news since the 1980s. Last year’s climate coverage was so miniscule, he said, that he’s doubting his data.
“I can’t believe it’s this little. In the U.S., it’s just gone off the map,” he said. “It’s pretty clear we’re back to 2004, 2005 levels.”
Coverage of December’s United Nations climate talks in Cancun is Exhibit A: Total meeting coverage by the networks consisted of one 10-second clip, Brulle said. By contrast, 2009’s Copenhagen talks generated 32 stories totaling 98 minutes of airtime. “I’m trying to check it again and again,” Brulle said of the 2010 data. “It’s so little, it’s stunning.”
Overall, based on preliminary data, the networks aired 32 stories on climate change last year, compared to 84 in 2009 and 144 in 2007, when former Vice President Al Gore released his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a key assessment on climate change. The two shared the Nobel Peace Prize that year.
The figure at the very top comes from “The Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, which has tracked media coverage of climate change since 2000.” They found “a similar slide in five major U.S. newspapers“:
After spiking to more than 450 articles in December 2009 – almost equal to the 2007 peak – coverage dropped precipitously in early 2010, falling to levels last seen in late 2005.
And as noted above, it isn’t it just lack of coverage — it is insufficient visibility for what coverage there is. On New Year’s Eve, The Politico published “the largest lead headlines of The New York Times, 2010.” It ain’t pretty.
I’m going to reprint them all, since it isn’t just that the one-time paper of record has chosen to deemphasize this most important of stories. While it has certainly dropped from the prestigious position it held decades ago, the paper still defines for many other media outlets what are the major stories that they need to follow.
Read ‘em and weep:
1/22: Justices, 5-4, Reject Corporate Campaign Spending Limit
3/22: Congress Sends White House Landmark Health Overhaul
11/3: G.O.P. TAKES HOUSE — SETBACK FOR OBAMA AND DEMOCRATIC AGENDA; CUOMO WINS; SHOW OF STRENGTH BY TEA PARTY
1/15: Hopes Fade in Quake-Ravaged Haiti, and Anger Rises
1/17: Officials Strain to Distribute Aid to Haiti as Violence Rises
5/5: Terrorism Suspect, Charged, Admits to Role in Bomb Plot [Times Square]
5/19: Specter, Running as Democrat, Ousted in Pennsylvania Primary
11/29: Leaked Cables Offer a Raw Look Inside U.S. Diplomacy — State’s Secrets, Day 1
12/19: Senate Ends Military Ban on Gays Serving Openly
1/14: Haiti Lies in Ruins; Grim Search for Untold Dead
1/16: Patience Wears Thin as Haiti’s Desperation Grows
1/18: Supermarket Rescue Beats Dimming Odds in Haiti
1/20: G.O.P. Surges to Senate Victory in Massachusetts
1/28: Obama Says Nation Can’t Afford the Politics of No (Faulting G.O.P., He Stands by His Agenda) [State of Union]
2/27: Under Fire, Paterson Quits Governor’s Race
2/28: Chile in ‘State of Catastrophe’ After Vast Quake
3/8: Iraqis Defy Blasts in Strong Turnout for Pivotal Vote
3/24: Health Care Overhaul Becomes the Law of the Land [Signing]
3/30: Female Suicide Bombers Strike at Moscow Subway
4/10: Justice Stevens Retiring, Giving Obama a 2nd Pick
4/16: Volcanic Ash Grounds Air Traffic in Northern Europe
4/25: Feeling Warehoused in Army’s Trauma Care Units [Sunday enterprise]
5/3: Police Seeking Man Taped Near Bomb Scene [Times Square]
5/10: Obama Said to Pick Solicitor General for Court
6/24: OBAMA FIRES AFGHAN COMMANDER, CITING NEED FOR UNITY IN THE WAR
7/26: The War Logs — The Afghan Struggle: A Secret Archive
8/27: Much of Pakistan’s Progress Is Lost in Its Floodwaters
9/16: Challengers Mine a Deep Discontent Among Voters [NYT/CBS poll]
10/23: The War Logs — The Iraq Archive: The Strands of a War
12/28: Blizzard Ends, Leaving Trail of Disruption Along Coast
12/14: CORE OF HEALTH CARE LAW IS REJECTED BY A U.S. JUDGE [in Richmond]
–2 columns, all caps:
2/13: ALLIES ATTACKING BIG TALIBAN HAVEN IN AFGHAN SOUTH [dateline: Marja, Afghanistan]
2/19: IN SURPRISE MOVE, FED SIGNALS PIVOT TO NORMAL POLICY
6/26: ACCORD REACHED FOR AN OVERHAUL OF FINANCE RULES
10/2: ACCORD PAVES WAY FOR IRAQI PREMIER TO BE RE-ELECTED
10/30: EXPLOSIVES FOUND IN PARCELS MEANT FOR U.S. DELIVERY
11/4: FED SETS OUT PLAN USING $600 BILLION TO SPUR ECONOMY
11/11: PANEL SEEKS CUTS IN SOCIAL SECURITY AND HIGHER TAXES
12/22: SENATE SET TO GIVE OBAMA A VICTORY ON ARMS CONTROL
–2 columns, 3 lines:
10/28: Coalition That Vaulted Democrats Into Power Has Frayed, Poll Finds [NYT/CBS]
12/7: Obama Reaches Accord With G.O.P. on Tax Cut; Democrats Hold Back
–A few notable 2-column lead headlines:
1/21: Obama Weighs a Paring of Goals for a Health Bill [day after Scott Brown election]
2/2: News Analysis: A Red-Ink Decade (Obama Budget Sees Years of Deficits, A Test of U.S. Power and Political Will) [by David E. Sanger] (page stripe: ‘The Budget Proposal: High Ambitions and Deficits”; inside: “In Proposal, Obama Takes the Long View: Paints Deficits as Investments)
2/6: Jobless Rate Falls to 9.7%, Giving Hope Worst Is Over
2/21: Despite Signs of Recovery, Chronic Joblessness Rises [Sunday enterprise]
4/4: Contesting Jobless Claims Becomes a Boom Industry [Sunday enterprise by Jason DeParle]
4/15: Discontent’s Demography: Who Backs the Tea Party (Supporters Are Better Educated, Wealthier and More Conservative, Poll Finds) [NYT/CBS]
4/17: S.E.C. Accuses Goldman Of Fraud in Housing Deal
5/1: Government Criticizes BP For Response to Oil Spill
5/11: News Analysis: A Trillion for Europe, With Doubts Attached
5/24: Cuts to Child Care Subsidy Thwart More Job Seekers (Faced With Bleak Prospects, Low-Income Parents Are Resorting to Welfare) [Peter S. Goodman, “The New Poor” series: “Articles in this series will examine the struggle to recover from the widespread strains of the Great Recession.”]
8/3: Obama Reaffirms Pullout From Iraq Is on Schedule (Combat Mission to End this Month Amid Rising Skepticism on Afghanistan) [Atlanta speech to Disabled Veterans of America]
8/15: A Secret Assault on Terror Widens on Two Continents: U.S. Strikes Make Yemen a Testing Ground for a ‘Scalpel’ Strategy on Al Qaeda
8/29: Graft-Fighting Prosecutor Dismissed in Afghanistan
9/1: Obama Declares an End To Iraq Combat Mission [Oval Office address]
11/12: Obama’s Economic View Is Rejected on World Stage [G-20, Seoul]
12/4: Jobless Rate Rises to 9.8% In Blow to Recovery Hopes
12/12: A Secretive Banking Elite Rules Derivatives Trading (Clubby Clearinghouses Limit Competition, and Consumers Face Higher Prices) [Louise Story, “House Advantage” series: “This series examines the ways that Wall Street banks can, and often do, gain advantages over their customers.”]
–A few notable 1-column lead headlines:
1/25: OBAMA TO OFFER AID FOR FAMILIES IN STATE OF UNION (AGENDA IS NARROWED: A Plan for Retirement Savings and a Credit for Child Care)
1/28 [col. 2, top of page]: WITH ITS TABLET, APPLE BLURS LINE BETWEEN DEVICES: IPAD, HEIR TO THE IPOD
2/1: OBAMA TO SEEK SWEEPING CHANGE IN ‘NO CHILD’ LAW
3/14: OBAMA PROPOSES SWEEPING CHANGE IN EDUCATION LAW
3/23: GOOGLE CLOSES SEARCH SERVICE BASED IN CHINA
4/23: OBAMA CHASTISES WALL ST. IN CALL TO STIFFEN RULES
6/9: INCUMBENT HOLDS HER SENATE SEAT IN ARKANSAS RACE [Blanche Lincoln’s Democratic primary]
6/16: PRESIDENT CALLS FOR A NEW FOCUS ON ENERGY POLICY [Oval Office address, with an accompanying Peter Baker news analysis, “On 56th Day, Call to Arms”]
7/16: CONGRESS PASSES MAJOR OVERHAUL OF FINANCE RULES [Next to it, in column 5, “S.E.C. Settling Its Complaints With Goldman”]
8/14 [col. 4, at fold]: Obama Backs Islam Center Near 9/11 Site
8/16: GENERAL OPPOSES A RAPID PULLOUT IN AFGHANISTAN [Petraeus interview]
–A few notable Sunday enterprise packages, not displayed as traditional leads:
3/21: The Long Road Back: Tactics, Perseverance and Luck Resurrected a Bill [health reform tick-tock]
5/23: Signs of Cover-Up After Killings in Haiti Prison: In Wake of Quake, Uprising Led to Shooting of Unarmed Inmates [Deborah Sontag and Walt Bogdanich]
6/6: At Issue in Gulf: Who Was in Charge? Hodgepodge of Oversight for Rig Helped Set Stage for Disaster
7/25: The Most Conservative Court in Decades Under Roberts, Center of Gravity Has Edged to the Right, Analyses Show
8/29: A Wartime Chief’s Steep Learning Curve [Peter Baker: “A year and a half into his presidency, Mr. Obama appears to be a reluctant warrior.”]
–3/9, off-lead (cols. 1, 2): Obama Turns Up the Volume In Bid for His Health Measure (Challenge to Democrats: ‘If Not Us, Who?’) [Philadelphia dateline, Arcadia University]
–7/22, Editorial, A26: Faster Than a Speeding Blog [Shirley Sherrod dismissal]
–7/22, Business Day p. 3: Obama Signs Contentious Overhaul of the Financial System (B1 refer: “A DODD-FRANK BILL BECOMES LAW: Senator Christopher Dodd, left, and Representative Barney Frank led committees that helped shape a bill overhauling how to respond to financial excesses.”)
–10/11, p. A11: Kidnapped Scottish Aid Worker in Afghanistan Is Killed During Rescue Raid [dateline: Kabul]
–10/13, 4 columns through top middle of page: Trapped 68 Days, First Chilean Miners Taste Freedom. [1-col. lead was: U.S. JUDGE HALTS ‘DON’T ASK’ LAW FOR THE MILITARY.]
–11/10, p. A14: Obama, in Indonesia, Pledges Expanded Ties With Muslim Nations.
There is not a single climate story on the list and only one on energy.
I asked Brulle for a comment on the above headlines. Since the choice of headlines and location for the story is a decision the editors make, he directed his comments to them:
Apparently, the editorial board of the NY Times has yet to fully grasp the importance of global climate change to our collective survival. As the science becomes stronger and more dire, the editors of the NY Times bury their head deeper into the sand.
It is appearing more and more likely that this report was true: Science Times stunner: “”¦ a majority of the section’s editorial staff doubts that human-induced global warming represents a serious threat to humanity.”
Shame on the media for this truly unforgivable noncoverage and miscoverage.