Silence Of The Lambs: Climate Coverage Drops At Major U.S. Newspapers, Flatlines On TV

Back in November, we reported that climate coverage had dropped sharply at the New York Times after the paper closed its environmental desk.

The final numbers for the year are in and NY Times climate coverage — stories in which the words “global warming” or “climate change” appeared — has plummeted more than 40 percent. That is a bigger drop than any of the other newspapers monitored by the University of Colorado, though the Washington Post’s coverage dropped by a third, no doubt driven in part by its mind-boggling decision to take its lead climate reporter, Juliet Eilperin, off the environment beat.

And remember, this drop happened from levels of climate coverage that were already near a historical low and in a year that was HUGE on climate news. We’ve had devastating extreme weather around the planet. In May, CO2 levels in the air passed the 400 parts per million threshold for the first time in millions of years. In June, President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan. And in September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest alarming review of the scientific literature.

As the chart above shows, when the IPCC released its previous reports (2001, 2007), media coverage spiked at the major newspapers. These days, the media herd is not to be heard from.


The major networks’ coverage of climate has flatlined. Robert Brulle of Drexel University counts a whopping 30 stories on the nightly news at ABC, NBC and CBS in 2013, little changed from the 29 in 2012. That’s less than one piece per week on the story of the century. In 2007, there were 147 climate segments on the nightly news.

Interestingly, reporting on climate and energy rose in 2013, “fueled by reporting on energy issues — fracking, pipelines, oilsands,” as the Daily Climate reported. They use an aggregated database of “news articles, opinions and editorials” from media outlets around the world, primarily print and online, though their choices are a tad arbitrary — they include DotEarth and Climate Central, but not Climate Progress or Grist.

Also the Daily Climate counts energy stories where the words “global warming” or “climate change” do not appear. But one of the great failings of the media is too little connecting the dots, such as a story on bark beetles or one on record-breaking wildfires or droughts that never mentions climate change. See last month’s post “96 Percent Of Network Nightly News’ Coverage Of Extreme Weather Doesn’t Mention Climate Change.” As Ezra Klein asked back in 2010, “Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?”

Sadly, even using with this broader metric, the one-time “paper of record” falls short: “The New York Times, having dismantled its ‘green desk’ in early 2013, was the only major publisher worldwide to see coverage drop in 2013….”

Future generations sweltering through a ruined climate that could have been saved for a tiny fraction of our vast wealth (a tenth of a penny out of every dollar) will probably never make sense of the media’s current climate silence. Heck, I can’t make sense of it.