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New Report Documents Corporate Media's Widespread Failure to Cover Link Between Climate Crisis and Extreme Weather

By not providing context for heatwaves, droughts, flooding, and wildfires, the news media is contributing to climate-related complacency, report finds

Only about seven percent of cable news reports about extreme weather this year have mentioned a leading cause of the events: the climate crisis. (Image: Public Citizen)

Bolstering observations made by at least one media critic this week, Public Citizen showed in a new report on Friday that news reports largely ignore the link between the climate crisis and the extreme heat that is currently enveloping cities and regions all over the world.

The consumer advocacy group's report (pdf), "Extreme Silence," found that from January 1 to July 8, only about seven percent of cable news reports on record high temperatures mentioned the climate crisis. Meanwhile, less than a fifth of such reports in the top 50 most-read American newspapers addressed climate change.

"Climate change is already harming Americans, and soon it will pose an existential threat," David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen's climate program, said in a statement. "But most Americans still think of the problem as distant, hurting people long in the future or in faraway places. The media's failure to cover climate has a big role in that complacency. We need much better reporting if the public is going to wake up and demand action in time to prevent catastrophe."

A poll conducted by Gallup earlier this year found that only 45 percent of Americans think the climate crisis would have an impact on them or their communities in their lifetime. In fact, research shows that the warming earth and resulting sea level rise has already forced at least 17 American communities from their homes.  

"We need much better reporting if the public is going to wake up and demand action in time to prevent catastrophe." —David Arkush, Public CitizenMore Americans may understand the urgency of the situation if major newspapers and news programs discussed the leading cause of extreme weather while reporting on heatwaves, hurricanes, droughts, and wildfires, argued Public Citizen in its report.

"This review identified some notable exceptions and models how best to cover climate in the context of extreme heat events," reads the report. "Overall, however, U.S. news outlets continue to tell only half the story. These exceptions need to become the norm if the public is going to wake from its slumber on climate change in time to take the bold action we urgently need to avoid catastrophic harm, and possibly even an existential threat to the U.S., later this century."

Out of 760 climate and weather-related articles in major publications since the beginning of the year, just 134 also addressed the climate crisis.

Ten of the 50 newspapers with the highest circulation—including the Tampa Bay Times and the Detroit Free Press—have yet to mention climate change at all this year.

"The media is failing at the job of covering one of the most important issues of our time." —David Arkush, Public CitizenAs for television networks, out of 226 climate-related segments produced by ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, the climate crisis came up in just 16 of them.

Public Citizen's study was released on the heels of reports of deadly wildfires in Greece and California, an unprecedented heatwave in the Arctic, and temperatures reaching 124 degrees Fahrenheit in Algeria this month—setting records for the country as well as the entire continent of Africa. 

"Overall, these findings suggest that the extreme heat event that scorched much of the U.S. over nearly two weeks in late June and early July 2018 failed to prompt conversations about climate change in national or local media," said Arkush. "The media is failing at the job of covering one of the most important issues of our time."

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