A recent survey by progressive watchdog Public Citizen (9/12/17) on the media’s coverage of hurricanes Harvey and Irma confirms what’s long been known: Corporate media are indifferent to the causal relationship between climate change and extreme weather, and by far the worst offenders are the Rupert Murdoch–owned Fox News, Wall Street Journal and New York Post.
The survey covered 18 outlets hurricane coverage for the week of August 25–September 1: ten major newspapers, three weekly news magazines, and ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox News. Out of 2,000 media items, there were only 136 mentions of climate change, many denialist in content.
Outlets owned by Murdoch’s umbrella corporations, News Corp and 21st Century Fox, clearly led the denialist camp. These firms constitute the core propaganda machine of the right in the English-speaking world, with the highest-rated cable news network (Fox News) and the first and sixth biggest-circulation newspapers (Wall Street Journal, New York Post) in the United States. As Public Citizen’s media survey reveals, they go beyond indifference to advocate outright denialism.
The Journal had three op-eds and Fox News had two segments that denied—and laughingly mocked—any connection between hurricane intensity and climate change, the survey found:
• Holman W. Jenkins, Jr: “First Houston’s Resilience, Then Washington’s Boondoggle” (Wall Street Journal, 8/29/31)
• Roger Pielke Jr: “The Hurricane Lull Couldn’t Last” (Wall Street Journal, 8/31/17)
• Editorial Board: “Texas, Thou Hast Sinned” (Wall Street Journal, 8/31/17)
• Tucker Carlson Tonight (Fox News, 8/31/17)
• The Five (Fox News, 8/25/17)
Other media did better, but some not much more so. ABC News and NBC News didn’t mention climate change at all in the context of Hurricane Harvey or Irma. Other outlets, such as USA Today (8/30/17, 8/30/17), used a "both sides" framing to provide a platform for denialists, but the paper's editorial ultimately concluded climate change "juiced Hurricane Harvey."
Public Citizen's survey found that climate coverage in the context of Harvey and Irma was concentrated in four outlets—the Washington Post, Houston Chronicle, New York Times and CNN, which together produced 72 percent of the pieces that mentioned climate change. CNN led the way with 30 mentions of climate change, only two of which were denialist in nature: interviews with Rep. Pete Olson (R–Texas) and Bill Read, the former director of the National Hurricane Center. The Post had 23, the Chronicle had 22 and the Times had 18. The remaining 28 percent were peppered across 10 sources.
The survey highlighted what it considered the "seven aspects" of climate change coverage:
• Clearly connected climate change to Hurricane Harvey (or to events like it)
• Framed questions regarding the role of climate change as whether it contributes to or intensifies the damage from events like Harvey rather than whether it "causes" them
• Discussed relevant clearly connected climate change to Hurricane Harvey (or to events like it);
• Noted ways to adapt to climate change (for example with better disaster preparedness or zoning or building policies)
• Noted ways to mitigate climate change (for example by reducing greenhouse gas pollution and switching to renewable sources of energy)
• Noted specific relevant policies or actions that have been or could be taken at the local or state level; and
• Noted specific relevant policies or actions that have been or could be taken at the federal level.
Only five outlets hit all aspects. Murdoch brands New York Post and Wall Street Journal went 0 for 7 and 1 for 7, respectively, and Fox News went 4 for 7—mentioning these aspects, but doing so in a derisive or dismissive manner.
As consensus emerges not just around the science of climate change, but also its amplifying effects on extreme weather events, Murdoch’s media empire—and the Republican Party that its talking points inform—will remain the last holdout. Even the nominally respectable Wall Street Journal, bought by Murdoch ten years ago, publishes snarky and glib editorials on the topic (8/31/17):
LOL funny stuff, right? A city underwater and extreme weather amplified by catastrophic climate change is all one big joke. A recent Guardian (9/10/17) report documented how corrupting Murdoch’s hand has been with the establishment paper, with dozens of writers quitting after being pressured to "normalize" Trump. Nevertheless, the Journal continues to ignore basic science to remain lockstep with their party and president, becoming more tabloid in tone and more craven in purpose.