PBS Is the Only Network Reporting on Climate Change and Trump Wants to Cut It
Media Matters for America has published its annual review of American evening newscast climate coverage for 2016, and the results are stunning:
In 2016, evening newscasts and Sunday shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as Fox Broadcast Co.’s Fox News Sunday, collectively decreased their total coverage of climate change by 66 percent compared to 2015
In all of 2016, these news programs spent a combined grand total of 50 minutes talking about climate change. More than half of that come from CBS Evening News, which nevertheless only spent half as much time talking about climate change in 2016 as it had in 2015.
It’s certainly not as though 2016 lacked newsworthy climate stories. We learned in January that 2015 had smashed the record for hottest year, previously set just a year earlier. And 2016 just kept getting hotter, with nearly every month setting a new heat record . In September, the US and China agreed to formally ratify the Paris climate agreement. The list goes on and on, with newspapers like The Guardian constantly publishing important climate-related news throughout the year.
During 2016 there was also an ongoing presidential campaign in which the candidates’ views on climate science and policy should have been featured prominently. Unfortunately, climate change was rarely raised in the primary debates, and never in the general election debates. In fact, on Sunday news programs, Bernie Sanders brought up climate change four times more often than the program hosts.
Only after the election did news networks finally examine what a President Trump would mean for the Earth’s climate:
ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox News Sunday did not air a single segment informing viewers of what to expect on climate change and climate-related policies or issues under a Trump or Clinton administration. While these outlets did devote a significant amount of coverage to Trump’s presidency, airing 25 segments informing viewers about the ramifications or actions of a Trump administration as they relate to climate change, all of these segments aired after the election.
As Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) noted, this was a dismal failure by the American news networks:
In a year when the American people were deciding who our next leader should be, you would think there would have been more discussions about climate change in our news programs, not less. This isn’t just shameful, it’s irresponsible. The climate is changing, and it’s affecting everything from the weather to our national security and our economy. Its impacts are already being felt and the American people deserve to know more about it.
PBS was the oasis in this desert of climate news coverage. PBS NewsHour was the only show that examined what impact a Trump or a Clinton presidency would have on climate-related issues and policies before the election. The PBS news program aired more than double the number of climate news segments as any of its network competitors, and interviewed or quoted three times more scientists than even CBS Evening News. ABC World News Tonight failed to interview or quote a single scientist about climate change.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given his climate denial, Trump’s proposed budget would completely defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which partially funds PBS. About half of that federal funding goes to local PBS stations that broadcast PBS NewsHour. Some of those stations – especially those in rural areas which rely particularly heavily on federal funding – would likely have to shut down, were Trump to get his budgetary wish.
With so little news coverage on the subject, it’s also unsurprising how confused Americans are about climate change—just 49% of Americans realize that most scientists think global warming is happening, and only 53% understand that humans are causing the problem. While concern among Americans about global warming is at an eight-year high, only 64% worry a great deal or fair amount.
That’s entirely understandable – if our leaders deny the problem, and our news networks don’t report on it, Americans are lacking the information signaling that global warming is an urgent threat. That’s why, although Americans (including Trump voters would prefer that their political leaders take steps to address the problem, they don’t few it as a high priority, and thus aren’t bothered by the lack of political action.
When future generations look back in disbelief at our failure to take the needed steps to preserve a stable climate, the history books will take a harsh view of today’s media outlets and political leaders who refused to inform the public or protect its health and welfare in the face of such an immense known threat.