Media Matters Explains Media's Climate Silence In Election Coverage

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Polls over the last year tell us that the vast majority of Americans (70%) understand that climate change is taking place, with 54% saying that they believe human activities are to blame.  72% of Americans believe that the government should make dealing with climate change a priority. 

Why then did the mainstream media devote more time to Vice President Joe Biden’s smile than to climate change in their coverage of this year’s elections?  That is a difficult question to answer.

In the months and weeks before the election, independent media outlets were begging both candidates and the traditional media to “end the climate silence,” and finally bring up the issue of global climate change.  Instead, we were treated to stories about Joe Biden’s smile and Paul Ryan’s workout routines.

Media Matters has released a new report, detailing the issues that the mainstream press covered, instead of devoting time to covering an issue that, as the polls tell us, is of utmost importance to American citizens.

From the new report:

Since August 1, the major cable and broadcast networks have spent just over three and a half hours discussing climate change in the context of the presidential election. But this was largely driven by MSNBC, which spent over two and a half hours on climate change – more than three times as much as the other networks combined. Outside of MSNBC, TV networks spent 51 minutes (rounded to the nearest minute) discussing climate change. By contrast, those outlets spent over an hour and a half discussing how much Biden smiled or laughed during the vice presidential debate.

ABC, NBC And Fox Virtually Ignored Climate Change. In total, the three major broadcast networks spent just 15 minutes discussing climate change in the context of the election. The bulk of this coverage – over 11 minutes – was on CBS, which dedicated three separate segments to climate change and the election. ABC and NBC did not air a single segment on climate change in the context of the election. Fox News mentioned climate change 19 times for a total of just 13 minutes of election coverage – the least among the major cable networks.

These findings are consistent with previous reports that Media Matters has put out, where they found that media outlets will almost always opt to avoid the issue of climate change.

To make matters worse, when the major networks and print outlets actually did discuss climate change, they left the discussion up to politicos and pundits, rather than actual climate scientists:

In election coverage of climate change, media outlets often turned to politicians and journalists rather than scientists. Scientists made up less than 6 percent of TV guests and just 5 percent of those quoted by print outlets on climate change in the context of the election. ABC, NBC, Fox News, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, San Jose Mercury News, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Denver Post, Dallas Morning News and the St. Petersburg-Tampa Bay Times, and the Des Moines Register did not interview or quote a single scientist on climate change.

Sadly, the problems don’t end with the ignoring of the experts.  Media Matters also points out that 63% of the coverage on climate change that casted doubt on the issue were not rebutted or covered in a critical manner, meaning that people like Mitt Romney were allowed to cast doubt on the occurrence of climate change without the media outlets mentioning that there is a virtual consensus among the scientific community that climate change is very real.

Had it not been for Hurricane Sandy, it is likely, according to Media Matters, that climate change discussions could have been almost completely non-existent in the media.  Sadly, it took a national tragedy to put the issue back on the media’s radar, and there’s no telling how long it’ll take before they move onto another hot button issue and forget all about the lessons we were supposed to learn from Sandy.

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine, and his articles have appeared on The Huffington Post, Alternet, and The Progressive Magazine. He has worked for the Ring of Fire radio program with hosts Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Mike Papantonio, and Sam Seder since August 2004, and is currently the co-host and producer of the program. He also currently serves as the co-host of Ring of Fire on Free Speech TV, a daily program airing nightly at 8:30pm eastern. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009.  Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced.

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