Where Art Thou Mainstream Climate Journalism?

The US media's deafening climate silence during the elections.

This is just depressing. Media Matters has released a study showing that Joe Biden’s smile was covered far more than climate change during the 2012 election. It may be comparing apples to oranges, but it gives us a pretty good idea of the US media’s skewed priorities and how they “serve” (or fail) their audiences:

Climate change was almost entirely absent from the political discourse this election season, receiving less than an hour of TV coverage over three months from the major cable and broadcast networks excluding MSNBC. By contrast, those outlets devoted nearly twice as much coverage to Vice President Joe Biden’s demeanor during his debate with Rep. Paul Ryan.

MSNBC’s coverage represents two and a half hours of the total three and a half hours spent in total on climate change by TV outlets. On the other hand, those outlets each spent over an hour and a half discussing how much Biden smiled or laughed during the vice presidential debate. In total, the three major broadcast networks—ABC, NBC, and CBS—spent just 15 minutes discussing climate change in the context of the election—of this, 11 minutes came from CBS.

What’s even more depressing—there was a marked failure by the media to correct inaccuracies about climate change or complete omissions of the issue. Media Matters points out that “sixty-three percent of print coverage featuring Mitt Romney or others casting doubt on climate science failed to explicitly or implicitly acknowledge the scientific consensus that manmade climate change is occurring.”

There were several points in the election season when this kind of accurate climate coverage would have been merited. Media Matters names the big ones:

On August 22, Romney released his energy plan which completely ignored climate change. On August 30, Romney’s joke about “rising oceans” at the Republican National Convention was widely seen as the standout moment of his speech, and Obama responded in his speech at the Democratic National Convention that the effects of climate change are not a “joke.” Yet the subsequent presidential debates did not once mention climate change.

But alas, seven of the outlets studied, including NBC, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, never once mentioned the scientific consensus.

In addition, when it came time to call in the “experts,” media outlets often turned to politicians and journalists rather than scientists.

And, not surprisingly, the bulk of the coverage of global warming in the election context came after Hurricane Sandy—in the last week before the election.

Courtesy: Media Matters.

Fox News covered climate change the least among cable networks, and much of its coverage “questioned, mocked or downplayed this threat.”

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  1. thomas cappiello says:

    Most people are already aware of climate change, whether they believe it or not. I think the main thing is that, so what the climate is changing, (maybe its not, the earth has experienced this before and then it cooled) what do you expect people to do? Tired of hearing that with no tangible solutions or action plans. Besides, we’re not going to stop emitting green house gases any time soon. Don’t expect any laws soon to stop carbon emissions. So a politician says “climate change”? Woopi doop, that doesn’t mean anything either.

    • Richard Houghton says:

      I disagree with TC. There are so many ways that individuals can reduce their climate impact/carbon footprint, and these are well known. There are also several known immediate major threats to the climate such as the Keystone Pipeline, Tar Sands Developement, and export coal terminals that will be on the plate of the President, Congress, and we the people to decide what direction we will go.

      There are tangible solutions and action plans, but the fossil fuel companies are fighting them every inch of the way.

  2. Paul Birkeland says:

    Yes, it is pitiful. But we need to keep up the pressure and voices with new strategies. 350.org ran a tremendous “Do the Math” tour advocating getting public institutions to divest their portfolios of fossil fuel holdings. Mayor McGinn committed Seattle to do just that. And we need to work to make a carbon tax part of the ‘fiscal cliff’ discussions. It is a real winner from a revenue perspective, and even some Republicans are talking about it. Check out our petition at https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/take-action-minimize-and-protect-against-threats-warming-planet/Hggzcnsn. And spread the word.

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