TV News Coverage of Climate Change Somehow Got Even Worse Last Year

Illustration for article titled TV News Coverage of Climate Change Somehow Got Even Worse Last Year
Screenshot: Meet the Press

That Sunday morning TV news shows suck is not exactly a secret. But they’ve reached a new level of suck when it comes to climate change.


Despite Chuck Todd spending a whole episode of Meet the Press talking climate to end the year, Sunday political shows on NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, and CNN did a terrible job not only talking about climate change last year, but doing so with any effort to include diversity, according to an analysis released Thursday by Media Matters for America. In fact, they did a worse job than they did in 2017 despite the slew of climate news last year.

Sunday political talk shows devoted less than 6 percent of their coverage to climate change according to the analysis, with segments dealing with climate change dropping 13 percent compared to 2017. Months at a time passed with zero serious discussions of climate change. And it will shock you to know most of the people invited to talk about it were white guys.

All that would be bad enough, but there’s also the fact that much of the coverage that did occur was awful. The shows had on more people who denied science than actual scientists, who have made it pretty damn clear we are leaving behind the climate that has allowed humans to flourish and things will only get more dangerous if we don’t act.

And honestly, we’re well past the point where we should only be discussing climate change as a science issue. 2018 saw deadly wildfires, record setting hurricanes, not one but two shocking climate reports, an international climate conference chalk full of coal, and loads of Trump administration attempts to wipe out climate policies. All that was most definitely news yet Sunday shows still largely ignored climate change.

The Sunday shows’ approach to climate change reveals a few things that are rotten about our media and its relationship with politics. The first is the media’s unbending commitment to both sides. Republicans have lied about climate change for decades, yet because they’re one party in a two party system, the media invites them back time and again to keep lying. Political reporters’ lack of in-depth knowledge on climate also means they struggle to fact check politicians in real time, allowing those lies to keep poisoning the well of climate discourse.

Secondly, the approach shows how insulated the political class is from the actual impacts of climate change. Most members of Congress are generally pretty well off. Ditto for TV hosts. The status quo has greatly benefited them, even as climate change wreaks further havoc on the world. This may help explain why there’s not a lot of urgency to cover climate, just as it may also help explain why new members of Congress from working class backgrounds like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have emerged as climate leaders and taken positions most Americans support.


Adding that diversity to Sunday shows in 2019 would go a long ways toward remedying years of malfeasance.

Managing editor at Earther, writing about climate change, environmental justice, and, occasionally, my cat.


Dense non aqueous phase liquid

My expertise in all things environment and climate, where climate is pretty much just movement of mass and energy around the environment, is pretty much limited to greasing water well pumps. And something else, but I forget. But son of a bitch, even I know environmental communications has always and continues to suck (except earther of course).

Timidity in environmental communications is a problem. Not talking about it at all is another. The old saying, “if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all” seems to apply. Like how do you politely tell an elderly aunt that her co-op apartment is a goddamn fucking pigsty? Or how do you tell a big donor (you’re an environmental non profit blog with a youth focus) that his/her wealth is generated from fucking up the environment? Or how do you tell your biggest advertiser that you’ll be doing a story on how his/her fugitive methane emissions are causing evermore global warming?

Not to give out a complement of anything, but this post by Brian is really good and really important.