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What Gives? Climate Warnings Up, Corporate News Climate Coverage Down

Study shines light on failure of major news outlets to adequately cover global warming

- Jon Queally, staff writer

David Gregory and 'Meet the Press' are just one of many culprits in the corporate media landscape who have largely ignored the severity of the climate crisis facing the planet. (Photo: AP Photo/NBC, William B. Plowman)Though the warnings and predictions from the scientific community focused on climate change become more dire by the year, month, and day—what should be the coverage of the climate crisis by the largest television news outlets in the U.S. is proving immune to the severity of the situation.

"We are more than aware that major fossil fuel companies spend significant amounts of money advertising on your networks. We hope that this is not influencing your decision about the subjects discussed or the guests who appear on your network programming."

That's according to a new analysis by news watchdog Media Matters, released Thursday, which shows that news coverage by ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX peaked in 2009 but has flat-lined since even as the scientific case and evidence of global warming has significantly raised the threat level of the problem over the last five years.

As the group states in their report, though they did better in 2013 than in 2012, the largest corporate media news channels "offered tepid coverage" of climate change despite a major report by the IPCC, a presidential speech by Obama focused on the issue, and a serious scientific milestone on global warming as the carbon concentration of the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million for the first time in human history.

Despite all that, "broadcast news' climate coverage remained relatively low" compared to other years.

According to the study: "Altogether, ABC, CBS and NBC reported on global warming for nearly an hour and 42 minutes during their nightly newscasts in 2013, compared to a combined total of less than an hour in all of 2012. The majority of this coverage -- 58 percent -- was driven by stories on climate change's relation to extreme weather or impacts on wildlife, while 19 percent was driven by scientific findings, another 19 percent by political stories related to climate change, and 4 percent by other stories."

And on the networks' political weekend shows? "Out of a year's worth of coverage, the Sunday shows focused on climate change for 27 minutes, the most aired since 2009."

By the numbers:

And citing Media Matter's study, a group of U.S. senators, led by Vermont's Sen. Bernie Sanders, sent a letter (pdf) to executives from these news outlets asking why there has been “shockingly little discussion” about global warming on their Sunday morning shows and other highly-watched programs.

“Given the widely recognized challenge that climate change poses to the nation and the world, this is an absurdly short amount of time for a subject of such importance,” the senators said in the letter. 

And not avoiding the gorilla in the room when it terms of the chief possible reason for the poor coverage, the senators continued:

We are more than aware that major fossil fuel companies spend significant amounts of money advertising on your networks. We hope that this is not influencing your decision about the subjects discussed or the guests who appear on your network programming.

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