Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Detail of the cover for Public Citizen's new report, 'Call It a Crisis': The Role of U.S. Network News in Communicating the Urency of Climate Change. (Image: Public Citizen)

'Call It a Crisis': New Report Details Failure of Cable and Network Outlets to Accurately Describe Climate Emergency

"Words matter."

Common Dreams staff

Name and shame.

That's the dual directive from a new report that calls on news organizations to use appropriate language when discussing the climate crisis—even as the report calls them out for inaction.

The report—titled "'Call It a Crisis': The Role of U.S. Network News in Communicating the Urency of Climate Change" (pdf)—analyzed the coverage of ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News to determine just how much urgency the influential outlets bring to their reporting.

According to David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen's Climate Program, the specific words that journalists and news anchors use—or choose not to use—matters.

"The words we use to characterize an issue make a difference in how it is perceived and prioritized politically," said Arkush.

When outlets with massive nightly audiences like the ones the report studied "consistently fail to use language that conveys that climate change is a crisis or emergency," Arkush added, "they unwittingly put a heavy thumb on the scale in favor of complacency and inaction."

Fox News was the worst offender, with the use of "climate crisis" coming in for only five mentions during the coverage period—all of which, as Public Citizen noted, were efforts to "minimize the issue with false logic, mockery or misinformation." But other news networks weren't much better than the conservative channel.

The only network to use the term in double digits was CNN, and only 16 of the 26 mentions were by a host. Van Jones, whose eponymous show ran every other Sunday during the survey period, accounted for six of those mentions. 

Networks should name the problem clearly to avoid confusion, said Allison Fisher, outreach director for Public Citizen's Energy Program. 

"Climate coverage on broadcast and cable television news is still at best spotty and at worst riddled with misinformation," Fisher said. "Calling it a crisis indicates that the stakes are high and that the issue is urgent. Most of all it signals to viewers that the time to act on climate is now."

How to report on the climate crisis has long been an issue for news organizations. In July 2018, MSNBC host Chris Hayes said on Twitter that while he was personally invested in the story, the topic was "a palpable ratings killer."

"So the incentives are not great," said Hayes. 


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Acidification of Arctic Happening Up to 4 Times Faster Than Other Oceans

The research followed reports that the Arctic is warming nearly four times faster than the Earth as a whole.

Julia Conley ·


Despite Nearly 80% of Voters in Favor, House Dems Stall on Stock Trading Ban

"Existing ethics laws do not go far enough to prevent members of Congress from using the information they have access to for personal gain. No more excuses. No more delays. It's time for action."

Jessica Corbett ·


Analysis Exposes Taxpayer Billions 'Wasted' on Dead-End Carbon Capture Schemes

Food & Water Watch said "this track record should elicit serious concern" as Congress dumps billions more into failed carbon capture technology.

Jake Johnson ·


House Dems Urge Biden to Push for Removal of Climate-Denying World Bank President

"We need a World Bank Group leader who fully appreciates the threat of climate change and the need to accelerate the global transition to a clean just energy future to improve living standards, reduce poverty, and encourage sustainable growth."

Kenny Stancil ·


'Let's Pass Medicare for All,' Says Jayapal as Survey Spotlights Failures of For-Profit System

"When the 'all-time low' of uninsured Americans is still 26 MILLION, something needs to change," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo