Network News Coverage of Climate Change Collapsed in 2011

Last week Climate Progress reported on the loss of interest in the story of the century by the major print media — see Silence of the Lambs 2: Media Herd’s Coverage of Climate Change Drops Sharply — Again.

Robert Brulle, a professor of sociology and environmental science at Drexel University in Philadelphia, put together similarly stunning data on the coverage in the past 15 years by NBC, ABC, and CBS on the night news.

Brulle explains in an email what he has to say on what happened and why:

As far as coverage of climate change on the evening broadcast news (NBC, CBS, and ABC), this year there were a total of 14 stories, for a total of 32 minutes and 20 seconds of coverage on the three evening news broadcasts.  This is down from 32 stories with 90 minutes and 28 seconds of coverage last  year, and way off from the peak in 2007, with 147 stories and over 386 minutes of coverage.  The nearest year with this low of TV coverage of climate change was 2003, with only 10 stories and 29 minutes and 30  seconds of coverage.

If last  year was titled the year coverage fell off the map — then the headline  this year might be WHAT COVERAGE?

What drove this?  We know that media coverage reacts to political events and elite cues.  So from that perspective, we can identify three factors:

1)      Failure of the political elite to focus on this issue (Elite Cues)  The Obama administration has not discussed this issue at all, as you have previously blogged.

2)  Crowding out by other issues (unemployment and economic issue – i.e. macro-economic factors), and

3)  No significant change in political equation (no big political events).

Actual news on the climate — including record-smashing extreme weather and its severe consequences — simply can’t compete with the silence of essentially the entire progressive political establishment in terms of driving coverage.

As I have written, the continued self-destructive failure of the nation and the world to reverse greenhouse gas emission trends deserves to be the top story pretty much every year — and how boring is that?!

Stories that might be of interest to future generations, though apparently not our own:

33 Responses to Network News Coverage of Climate Change Collapsed in 2011

  1. SecularAnimist says:

    Robert Brulle wrote: “If last year was titled the year coverage fell off the map — then the headline this year might be WHAT COVERAGE?”

    The headline this year should be “COVERUP”.

  2. John Tucker says:

    “this year there were a total of 14 stories, for a total of 32 minutes and 20 seconds of coverage on the three evening news broadcasts.”

    Thats bizarre really, that it could be so low. I wouldn’t even predict numbers so low if no one cared about it at all.

    To add to the insult when they do report something they include highly speculate elements and fringe ideas with legitimate science. Another example in the last day.

    On the BBC :

    Carbon emissions ‘will defer Ice Age’

    …Groups opposed to limiting greenhouse gas emissions are already citing the study as a reason for embracing humankind’s CO2 emissions…

    ….”We must look to a sustained greenhouse effect to maintain the present advantageous world climate. This implies the ability to inject effective greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the opposite of what environmentalists are erroneously”… advocating.”… ( )

    They kinda pull it back together at the end of the story, but with all the important recent stuff to talk about when climate change finally comes up, why give the microphone to the lunatics ?

  3. Jeff H says:

    … which raises the question: What are CAP and CP doing in order to call for and PROMPT coverage of climate change by the network news organizations?

    Here, I’m not talking about (justifiably) complaining about the lack of coverage. Instead, I’m talking about doing things that could actually bring about improved coverage. Making specific public appeals on ClimateProgress, addressed to the specific media organizations and news anchors, and naming names. Using the network of folks that CP must surely have, in order to request, enable, and prompt coverage. Bringing key-names together in order to request and prompt coverage. Working closely with folks like Curtis Brainard (is he still doing his thing?) to bring about coverage. And so forth.

    What, concretely, is CP doing in order to prompt more coverage?

    After all, the networks (ABC, NBC, CBS) are presumably on “the responsible side” of the matter — or at least they see themselves that way. In contrast to Fox News, and what they say about Fox News, they think of themselves as being responsible and serving the public interest.

    Did you know that Walter Cronkite himself introduced a very good short segment on global warming on CBS News on the evening of April 3, 1980 — yes, over thirty years ago? That was before cable news even existed, and (at the time) CBS News was the highest-rated evening news show. You can get a copy of the actual broadcast from the Vanderbilt TV News Archive. (615) 322-2927. e-mail:

    It seems to me that CP and CAP, making use of the public platform that CP has, and making use of the CP/CAP network of folks, ought to be able to call for and prompt greater coverage. Perhaps doing so should be a stated aim of CP?



  4. Joe Romm says:

    When have I stopped calling for more coverage?

  5. John Tucker says:

    Adding CO2 now to prevent a ice age is rather like pouring gasoline on your house fire in September because winter is coming!

  6. Jeff H says:

    Hi Joe, in my experience, CP critiques the lack of coverage and calls for more coverage “generically” — in other words, usually NOT addressed to specific people (a specific network, a specific anchor or reporter) regarding a specific issue/event/angle that should be covered, and so forth.

    Here’s what I’m suggesting: Make specific, loud, clear public appeals (CP has a large readership) to specific media organizations, their leaders (name names), and specific anchors and reporters (name names). Make the requests concrete. Put the pressure on. Use your network. Presumably Friedman and Krugman love CP, and presumably so does Keith Olberman, and so forth and so on. With these and many other folks on “the side of responsibility”, the good side, it seems to me that CP and CAP, working smartly with such folks, ought to be able to be EFFECTIVE at prompting and actually bringing about coverage. Right?



  7. B Waterhouse says:

    The irony of the BBC story is that a truly advanced civilization would recognize the need to conserve fossil fuels for the future time when we do need to raise CO2 levels to offset cooling from earth’s orbital cycles instead of burning it all now and destroying the only climate human civilization has known.

  8. Ben Lieberman says:

    To increase coverage it’s time to re-brand the climate as a NFL or major league baseball team, say the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Yankees. News organizations might care enough then to actually assign reporters to cover the climate, and if the climate were threatened or endangered fans might pay attention. Radio stations might schedule long talk shows about they climate and guys driving around might hear the hosts talk about the threat to the Steelers or Yankees.

  9. John Tucker says:

    A new addition, like

    Klimate Kardashian ??

  10. Ben Lieberman says:

    On a more serious note, the Boston Globe simply will not carry original reporting on climate change anymore. The paper will run soft features about how warm it is, but it carries virtually no original reporting on global warming. Those Globe staff who are willing to discuss coverage typically tell me that the paper ran a series on climate change on the 45h parallel. That was a good series, but it ran in 2007. I guess if the paper covered the Red Sox with a special series 4 years ago that would be a good excuse to put baseball on the back burner. The Globe’s main reporter on climate, Beth Daley, is currently at Stanford on a fellowship. There is no reason why she should not do that, but the paper seems to again see her absence as n excuse to drop the topic completely. Again, if a Patriots beat reporter was awarded a fellowship would the paper drop football coverage? What is the Globe’s excuse?

  11. Lou Grinzo says:

    Imagine the following scenario:

    It is January 1, 2011.

    Someone pops out of a time machine and says, “Here’s the list of climate-related disasters that will strike, many in the US, by the end of this year. And the Big Three networks will devote a grand total of 14 stories and a little over 32 minutes to the topic of climate change.”

    Which possibility would you have found the hardest to believe, that all that s*** really did hit the fan in one year and coverage plummeted like that, or that we would have an uneventful year and the climate coverage dried up for lack of news hooks? (I’m assuming no one here would be naive enough to have thought either of the other two cases, the ones involving significantly more coverage than 14 stories, was likely, whether described by a time traveling visitor or someone else.)

    Those stats re:climate coverage are truly astonishing. Not only are we driving towards a cliff at night at a high (and rising) rate of speed, but we’ve just decided to shut off the headlights.

  12. MarkfromLexington says:

    I would be interested to see the graph of time devoted to climate change stories compared to the graph of time and number of stories devoted to Solyndra.

    As far as Beth Daley, we are better off without her reporting. She wrote one of the worst articles ever on climate change which ran on the front page of the Globe in May of 2010 with the headline “A Cooling Trend” promoting the idea that there is no consensus on climate change.

  13. To sum up:

    US TV Network News 2011 coverage of climate: 32 min.

    Republican primary: +32 min a day

    Now why is that?

  14. Joe Romm says:

    If you think about this, you’ll realize it doesn’t make any sense. The networks can’t be badgered or shamed into better coverage. That’s kind of obvious. Just watch Jon Stewart, who has a lot more readers and influence than I do.

  15. SecularAnimist says:

    Jeff H wrote: “I’m talking about doing things that could actually bring about improved coverage.”

    I suggest this:

    Start describing the corporate media’s non-coverage of climate change as a DELIBERATE COVERUP — as a full-blown mass media conspiracy to keep the American people uninformed about the disaster that is coming their way, in order to protect the profits of the fossil fuel corporations.

    Put them where they belong: on the defensive.

    Meekly and politely asking them to pretty please “improve” their coverage isn’t going to get anywhere. It isn’t even going to get their attention.

    Loudly and rudely accusing them of systematically and deliberately deceiving the American people, for money, may get their attention.

    It also has the virtue of being true.

  16. Ben Lieberman says:

    I contacted the Globe about that story. The Globe answer to any complaints is Beth Daley wrote some stories on this topic years ago.

  17. Leif says:

    Ignorance is bliss. Not a very good survival strategy however.

  18. Paul Magnus says:

    All climate extreme disasters should now be attributed to GW climate change unless otherwise proven.

    This is a big issue with the media and the public – if we can not say that the extreme event was caused by GW then they are not interested and dont feel threatened and will not be a priority for them.

    So scientist have to say that extreme incidents are primarily being caused by GW (yes they are) and then quantify the details and uncertainties with less enthusiasm behind the headline.

    No harm in doing that me thinks. It certainly would get the media blowing and would be better in portraying the risks we face.

    That is the disconnect, the risk due to GW based on the events and their escalation.

  19. John McCormick says:

    Secular, great idea. Now, get us from that point to where you want us to arrive.

    Ideas without step by step and funding are just that…ideas. Millions of ideas out there and lots of them show up on CP. Problem…No programmatic approach to implement them. Without a program ideas remain and die on the wish list.

    So, tell us how to get us to where you (we)”Start describing the corporate media’s non-coverage of climate change as a DELIBERATE COVERUP”. Your call.

  20. Jeff H says:

    Joe, I disagree. And consider: If, as you say, the networks can’t be badgered into better coverage, what good then is your criticism of them, and what good is even discussing the issue? If the networks can’t be badgered into better coverage, no matter what WE do, then what’s the point, even, of the present post? And, also, how do you know what won’t work unless you try it?

    Our expectations are too low, and our tactics and approaches cry out for change. Aren’t those two central points, going into the New Year?



  21. Joe Romm says:

    I must say this comment is simple to absurd to reply to.

  22. Bill Goedecke says:

    I think of it like when a friend of mine suspected lung cancer. Denial was her big response. In her case, I thought that she wanted to die. When she finally wanted to deal with it, it was too late. Before that came up, she was blaming her poor health on mold. So it seems that things are becoming clearer that there is an issue with the climate. Maybe the more clear it becomes, the more our public will want to deny it.

  23. The coverup is for the amount of advertising revenue from oil, coal and automobile industries.

  24. prokaryotes says:

    Take the analogy to an junkie who is addicted to heroin or crack. He knows that he is addicted, he maybe has somewhere the motivation to quit and would use an alternative regime – program (i.e. methadone replacement drug regime) . But you also need to influence the guy and talk with him to raise the chances to overcome the withdraw symptoms and change the environment of addiction. You have to replace the ill fated fossil regime with general electric vehicle transport.

  25. prokaryotes says:

    Here is a clip from Cronkite and global warming. Cronkite After CBS News

    Earth Day 1970 Part 1: Intro (CBS News with Walter Cronkite)

  26. prokaryotes says:

    World’s carbon emissions hit record rise

    Uploaded by AlJazeeraEnglish on May 30, 2011
    Carbon emissions in the earth’s atmosphere have reached a record high, according to the International Energy Agency.

    Scientists warn that climate change will lead to unprecedented catastrophic consequences, if global leaders do not take decisive action to reduce the harmful emissions soon.

    Al Jazeera’s Charlie Angela has more.
    News & Politics

  27. John McCormick says:

    Jeff, I’ve come around to your point on naming names and posting their email and home addresses in order to make them squirm. As individuals, some commentators such as George Will, Kratthammer, Limbag are beyond reach but line reporters and editors might be shamed into being more responsible journalists. Maybe a dream.

    A further point that echoes your repeated criticisms of the AGW hawk approach to the problem (and that certainly includes the big green leaders) I believe we are suffering a collective “writers block” when it comes to crafting and implementing an entirely new approach. We don’t really know what to say except wind, solar, efficiency, bio-char and carbon footprint.

    I want to hear big green leaders scaring the bejezus out of all of us constantly. What do we have to lose? Nothing more than civilization.

  28. Mike Roddy says:

    Yeah, and you can bet that there was quid pro quo behind the scenes.

  29. Mike Roddy says:

    I agree, Secular. A lot of us, and not just CP readers, are tired of Big Oil pushing us around. If actions and consequences are considered, the fossil fuel companies and their friends in MSM are evil. Time to call them on it.

  30. SecularAnimist says:

    Just do it. Wherever, whenever you have an opportunity to talk about or write about global warming, just simply and clearly — and repeatedly — say “the corporate media isn’t covering climate change, they are covering up climate change”.

  31. Jim Pettit says:

    The very word “news”, of course, means something new, something something novel. And the “novelty” of climate change has apparently worn off, though not because of over-saturation, as one might think. The way I see it, science-minded individuals look at the increasingly severe and frequent extreme weather events with alarm, as they know–or strongly suspect, anyway–that AGW is at least partially responsible for them. But the average person simply shrugs and says, “Oh, another drought? Another unprecedented flood? Another month of insane high temperature records? That happens all the time now. Boring.” And the traditional news outlets pick up on this “boredom”, and instead of maintaining their mission and letting those people know just what this all means, they abandon their duties by first lazily giving in to false balance–“97% of scientists claim GW is happening, but the CEO of ExxonMobil says otherwise. There’s obviously a lot of disagreement, so who’s to say who’s right?”–then by giving the people what they really crave: hours of Kardashian antics, royal weddings, and info on Beyonce’s baby.

  32. Nichol says:

    Bill McKibben and the tarsands actions .. they worked. They got attention! Hurray for the activist squad! The people.

    .. or did even they get little coverage?

  33. Any commercial broadcaster is in business to sell ad time for presenting to the largest possible audience. When global warming news attracts more viewers, then advertisers will buy more time.

    I expect the fall of news coverage corresponds to the softening economy. This is not at all surprising.