In 2016, evening newscasts and Sunday shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as Fox News' "Fox News Sunday," collectively decreased their total coverage of climate change by 66 percent compared to 2015, even though there were a host of important climate-related stories, including the announcement of 2015 as the hottest year on record, the signing of the Paris climate agreement, and numerous climate-related extreme weather events. There were also two presidential candidates to cover, and they held diametrically opposed positions on the Clean Power Plan, the Paris climate agreement, and even on whether climate change is a real, human-caused phenomenon. Apart from PBS, the networks also failed to devote significant coverage to climate-related policies, but they still found the time to uncritically air climate denial — the majority of which came from now-President Donald Trump and his team.
Total Climate coverage on broadcast networks cratered in 2016
Combined climate coverage on ABC, CBS, NBC, and "Fox News Sunday" decreased significantly from 2015 to 2016, despite ample opportunity to cover climate change
In 2016, ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s "Fox News Sunday"* aired a combined 50 minutes of climate coverage on their evening and Sunday news programs, which was 96 minutes less than in 2015 — a drop of about 66 percent.*Fox Broadcast Co. does not air a nightly news program
As was the case in 2015, ABC aired the least amount of climate coverage in 2016, covering the topic for just six minutes, about seven minutes less than in 2015. All the other major networks also significantly reduced their coverage from the previous year, with NBC showing the biggest decrease (from 50 minutes in 2015 to 10 minutes in 2016), followed by Fox (39 minutes in 2015 to seven minutes in 2016) and CBS (from 45 minutes in 2015 to 27 minutes in 2016).
Networks had ample opportunity to cover climate change in 2016
Despite the pronounced decline in climate coverage, the networks had ample opportunity to cover climate change in 2016. As The New York Times reported, in 2016, climate change took on “a prominence it has never before had in a presidential general election” given the stark contrast between the candidates’ views. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump had a long track record of climate denial and differed with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on a range of important climate issues, including the Paris climate agreement, the Clean Power Plan, and the continued use of coal as an energy source, with Trump pledging that he would put coal miners “back to work” and Clinton proposing a plan that would help coal communities transition to clean energy. Additionally, there were also a host of non-election climate stories worthy of coverage in 2016, including extreme weather events tied to climate change, like Hurricane Matthew and the record-breaking rainfall and flooding in Louisiana (which the American Red Cross described as “the worst natural disaster to strike the United States since Superstorm Sandy”); the signing of the Paris climate agreement and the U.N. climate summit in Morocco; the official announcement from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that 2015 was the hottest year on record by far; and investigations by state attorneys general into whether ExxonMobil committed fraud by misleading the public on climate change. [The New York Times, 8/1/16; Media Matters, 5/26/16; The Huffington Post, 9/8/16; DonaldJTrump.com, 9/15/16; Media Matters, 3/15/16, 10/7/16, 8/17/16; The Huffington Post, 4/22/16; The Guardian, 4/22/16; InsideClimate News, 11/3/16; The New York Times, 1/20/16; InsideClimate News, 12/28/16]
ABC, CBS, NBC, And Fox failed to discuss climate-related ramifications of a Clinton or Trump presidency until after the election
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. Examples of post-election coverage include a "PBS NewsHour" segment about Trump’s selection of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Pruitt’s history of climate denial and ties to the fossil fuel industry; a "CBS Evening News" segment about Trump appointing climate denier Myron Ebell to his EPA transition team; and an "NBC Nightly News" report on Trump’s promise to roll back President Barack Obama’s executive actions on climate change. [PBS NewsHour, 12/7/16; CBS Evening News, 11/15/16; NBC Nightly News, 11/9/16**]
**We included citations of specific shows when we described the content of a segment. We did not include show citations for general tallies. We linked to episodes that were available online but listed only the date for those that were not.
"PBS NewsHour" was the only show to discuss climate ramifications of a Clinton or Trump presidency prior to the election
"PBS NewsHour"*** was the only show in our study that examined what impact a Trump or a Clinton presidency would have on climate-related issues and policies before the election. On the September 7 edition of "PBS NewsHour", correspondent William Brangham discussed “what a Clinton or Trump administration might mean with regards to climate change” with The New York Times’ Coral Davenport and The Washington Post’s Chris Mooney. And a September 22 segment explored “what the early days of a Trump presidency might look like” and featured Judy Woodruff interviewing Evan Osnos of The New Yorker about whether Trump would renounce the Paris climate agreement. [PBS NewsHour, 9/22/16, 9/7/16]
***Unlike the nightly news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC that air for a half hour seven days a week, "PBS NewsHour" airs five days a week and is a half hour longer.
Tyndall report found no discussion of climate change in issues coverage during campaign
The Tyndall Report, which tracks the broadcast networks' weeknight newscasts, analyzed election-related issues coverage on the major networks’ weeknight newscasts and found no issues coverage devoted to climate change in 2016 up through October 25. The Tyndall Report defines election-related issues coverage as that which “takes a public policy, outlines the societal problem that needs to be addressed, describes the candidates' platform positions and proposed solutions, and evaluates their efficacy.” [The Intercept, 2/24/17; Media Matters, 10/26/16; Tyndall Report, 10/25/16]
Networks aired a disproportionate amount of climate coverage after Election Day
In the roughly 45 weeks before the November 8 election, the networks aired a total of 55 segments about climate change — roughly one per week. After the election, the networks aired 32 climate-related segments over approximately seven weeks till the end of the year — about five stories per week.
Networks ignored links between climate change and national security and rarely addressed economic and public health impacts, but some detailed impacts on extreme weather and plants and wildlife
Networks did not air a single segment on link to national security
Numerous military and intelligence organizations have sounded the alarm on climate change’s connection to national security. A September 2016 report prepared by the National Intelligence Council and coordinated with the U.S. intelligence community stated, “Climate change and its resulting effects are likely to pose wide-ranging national security challenges for the United States and other countries over the next 20 years.” And following Trump’s election victory, “a bipartisan group of defense experts and former military leaders sent Trump’s transition team a briefing book urging the president-elect to consider climate change as a grave threat to national security,” E&E News reported. Yet the national security implications of climate change never came up in any of the networks’ climate coverage for 2016. [Media Matters, 1/13/17; Scientific American, 11/15/16]
PBS was the only network to address economic impacts of climate change
PBS was the only network to report on the economic impacts of climate change. Two segments about Washington state’s carbon tax ballot initiative that aired on the April 21 and October 20 editions of "PBS NewsHour" featured the president of the Washington State Labor Council explaining that Washington’s shellfish industry “has left the state and gone to Hawaii because the acid levels in the ocean has risen so much.” And on the November 17 edition of "PBS NewsHour", correspondent William Brangham reported that 365 American companies “have written to the president-elect imploring him to uphold the Paris accords and warning — quote — ‘Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk.’” [PBS NewsHour, 4/21/16, 10/20/16, 11/17/16]
Networks rarely addressed how climate change impacts public health
The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Climate Assessment have all concluded that climate change has a significant influence on human health and disease. And as 2016 saw the first local spread of the Zika virus in the continental United States, Climate Signals found that “climate change creates new risks for human exposure to vector-borne diseases such as Zika, particularly in the United States where rising heat and humidity are increasing the number of days annually in which disease vectors thrive.” However, only two segments on "NBC Nightly News" dealt with the link between climate change and public health — no other network covered the issue. In a January 18 report about the spread of Zika, correspondent Tom Costello noted, “Researchers are also studying whether climate change and El Nino are causing certain mosquitoes populations to grow.” And a July 4 report about a massive algae bloom creating a toxic emergency in Florida featured correspondent Gabe Gutierrez explaining, “The debate is raging over what`s to blame for this latest growth, but scientists say there are many factors including population growth and climate change.” [World Health Organization, accessed 3/21/17; CDC.gov, accessed 3/21/17; National Climate Assessment, accessed 3/21/17; Climate Signals, 8/23/16; NBC Nightly News, 1/18/16, 7/4/16]
CBS and ABC rarely covered climate link to extreme weather, while NBC and Fox ignored it completely
2016 saw no shortages of extreme weather events influenced by climate change, with Hurricane Matthew making landfall on the East Coast; wildfires -- which have become a consistent threat thanks, in part, to climate change -- charring more than 100,000 acres in seven states in the Southeast; and record rainfall and flooding in Louisiana causing what the American Red Cross called “the worst natural disaster to strike the United States since Superstorm Sandy.” Yet NBC and Fox never addressed the link between climate change and extreme weather, while CBS did so in four segments and ABC did so in just one segment. By contrast, "PBS NewsHour" aired eight segments dealing with the link between climate change and extreme weather. [The Weather Channel, 10/9/16; Media Matters, 10/6/16; The New York Times, 11/29/16; Climate Central, 11/23/16; Media Matters, 8/17/16]
PBS led the networks in stories detailing climate impacts on plants and wildlife
PBS provided the most coverage of climate impacts on plants and wildlife (six segments), followed by CBS and NBC (three segments each), and ABC (one segment). Examples of this reporting included a “Climate Diaries” segment on "CBS Evening News" about how climate change is “taking a toll on endangered mountain gorillas” in Central Africa by making their food supply less predictable and forcing human populations searching for water into their territory and an "NBC Nightly News" segment about how Yellowstone grizzlies are threatened because one of their food sources — seeds from whitebark pine trees -- has been decimated by climate change. Another example was a "PBS NewsHour" segment reporting that “two-fifths of bees, butterflies, and related pollinating species are heading toward extinction” thanks to “a range of factors, ranging from pesticide use to climate change to habitat loss.” [CBS Evening News, 11/17/16; NBC Nightly News, 5/22/16; PBS NewsHour, 2/26/16]
Specific climate-related policies received sparse coverage outside of PBS
The Clean Power Plan was almost completely ignored on Sunday shows and received sparse coverage on Nightly News shows
The broadcast networks provided scant coverage of the Clean Power Plan even though Trump had promised during the campaign to eliminate the policy. The Clean Power Plan establishes the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants and serves as the linchpin of President Obama’s program to meet the nation’s emissions reduction obligation under the Paris agreement. "Fox News Sunday" was the only Sunday show to feature a climate-related segment on the Clean Power Plan, in which Washington Post editorial writer Charles Lane claimed that the Democrats’ focus on the plan is an example of how “environmentalism in a crucial way worked against the Democratic Party this year,” because Trump carried coal-dependent states in the election. But contrary to Lane’s claim, numerous polls conducted in the run-up to the election indicated that a majority of Americans consider climate change an important issue and favor government action to address it. On nightly news shows, ABC was the only network that did not air a climate-related segment on the plan, while PBS NewsHour covered the Clean Power Plan the most (seven segments), followed by CBS Evening News (three segments) and "NBC Nightly News" (two segments). [DonaldJTrump.com, 9/15/16; The White House, 8/3/15; The New York Times, 3/2/16; Fox News Sunday, 11/13/16; Media Matters, 11/29/16]
PBS far outpaced networks in coverage of U.N. climate agreement and summits
In 2016, world leaders met on Earth Day for the signing ceremony of the Paris climate agreement reached by 195 nations and later again in Morocco for talks about implementing the climate accord. In Trump’s first major speech on energy policy, in May, he vowed that he would “cancel” the Paris climate agreement. But after the election he told The New York Times, “I have an open mind to it.” Despite these developments, PBS was the only network to devote significant coverage to the U.N. climate agreement and U.N. climate-related summits, doing so in 21 segments, while CBS aired five segments, NBC and ABC aired just three, and Fox aired just two. [USA Today, 4/22/16; The New York Times, 12/12/15; InsideClimate News, 11/3/16; BBC.com, 5/27/16; DonaldJTrump.com, 5/26/16; The New York Times, 11/23/16]
CBS, NBC and Fox addressed the climate impacts of the Keystone XL Pipeline only once, while ABC and PBS failed to do so at all
During the campaign, Clinton and Trump staked out opposing positions on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport tar sands oil that is 17 percent dirtier than average and would “increase emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming” from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Yet there was a dearth of coverage on Keystone XL’s link to climate change, with CBS, NBC, and Fox each airing just one segment that connected Keystone XL to climate change and ABC and PBS ignoring the topic completely. The networks also ignored Keystone XL more broadly — airing just four additional non-climate-related segments on the pipeline. [Business Insider, 9/25/16; Media Matters, 1/15/15]
Fox was the only network to cover the Dakota Access Pipeline in a climate context
The Standing Rock Sioux and other Native American tribes, as well as environmental activists, protested against the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline in 2016, citing, among other concerns, the impact a continued buildup of oil infrastructure would have on climate change. Yet Fox was the sole network to cover the Dakota Access pipeline in a climate context. On the December 11 edition of "Fox News Sunday", host Chris Wallace previewed his upcoming interview with Trump by saying that he would “ask [Trump] to clear up exactly where he stands on climate change.” After returning from a commercial break, Wallace said to the Trump, “Let me ask you a couple specific questions. Will you still pull out of the Paris climate agreement, which has been signed by more than 100 countries to reduce carbon emissions? Will you restart the Dakota Access pipeline, which the Army just stopped?” To which Trump replied that he was “studying” the Paris climate agreement and would “have [Dakota Access] solved very quickly” when he takes office. ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS did air multiple segments on the Dakota Access pipeline (airing eight, 10, four, and 10 segments, respectively), but none of these segments linked it to climate change. [MPR News, 12/7/16; Time, 12/1/16, 10/28/16; Fox News Sunday, 12/11/16]
Major networks completely ignored the “Exxon Knew” story
Reports from InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times revealed that Exxon’s own scientists had confirmed by the early 1980s that fossil fuel pollution was causing climate change, yet Exxon-funded organizations helped manufacture doubt about the causes of climate change for decades afterward in what became known as the “Exxon knew” scandal. The reports prompted the attorneys general in New York, California, and Massachusetts to each launch investigations of Exxon, as well as countersuits from Exxon and subpoenas from members of Congress in defense of Exxon. Yet none of the networks covered any of these developments over the course of 2016. [Media Matters, 9/1/16; InsideClimate News, 12/28/16]
CBS, Fox and PBS uncritically aired climate science denial in 2016 -- all of which came from Trump or Trump officials
CBS, Fox and PBS aired a combined five segments that included unrebutted climate science denial in 2016 -- all from Trump or Trump officials
In 2016, "CBS Evening News", "PBS NewsHour", and "Fox News Sunday" aired a combined five segments that misled audiences by featuring climate science denial. Half of "Fox News Sunday"’s climate-related segments included climate denial. In every instance, it was Trump or Trump officials promoting denial.
- On the September 27 edition of "CBS Evening News", correspondent Julianna Goldman fact-checked a portion of the September 26 presidential debate in which Clinton stated, “Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it’s real,” and Trump interjected, “I did not. I did not. . . . I do not say that.” Goldman noted that Trump had in fact tweeted that climate change is a hoax, but she did not fact-check the veracity of Trump’s statement that climate change was a hoax. [CBS Evening News, 9/27/16; Media Matters, 5/26/16]
- On the November 9 edition of "PBS NewsHour", during a segment on world leaders’ reactions to Trump’s election victory, correspondent Margaret Warner reported, “Also in question is America’s participation in the Paris climate accord. Trump has called climate change a hoax, and while it would take four years to formally pull out of the agreement, there are no sanctions in place for ignoring it.” And in a report on the ways in which Trump would dismantle environmental policy on the November 17 edition of "PBS NewsHour", correspondent William Brangham stated, “Trump has repeatedly expressed his own skepticism about climate change, like in this 2012 tweet, when he said: ‘The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.’ Two years later, he wrote: ‘Global warming is an expensive hoax.’" In neither instance did the correspondent note that Trump’s statements are at odds with the scientific consensus that climate change is real and human-caused. [PBS NewsHour, 11/9/16, 11/17/16]
- Shortly after Trump’s interview with The New York Times in which he stated that he had an “open mind” on climate change and the Paris climate agreement, "Fox News Sunday"’s Chris Wallace asked Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, how flexible Trump would be on his campaign promises. Priebus answered that as “far as this issue on climate change -- the only thing he was saying after being asked a few questions about it is, look, he'll have an open mind about it but he has his default position, which [is that] most of it is a bunch of bunk, but he'll have an open mind and listen to people.” Priebus then moved on to discuss the potential nomination of Jim Mattis as defense secretary before Wallace concluded the interview. And during Wallace’s interview with Trump on the December 11 edition of "Fox News Sunday", Trump declared that “nobody really knows” whether human-induced climate change is happening. Wallace didn’t challenge Trump’s claim that blatantly misrepresents the consensus of the world’s leading scientific institutions that human activities such as burning fossil fuels are the main cause of global warming. [The New York Times, 11/23/16; Fox News Sunday, 11/27/16, 12/11/16; NASA.gov, accessed 3/21/17]
Other nightly news segments on PBS, CBS and NBC also included climate science denial, but reporters pushed back on those claims, noting that they conflicted with established climate science
Segments on PBS, CBS, and NBC nightly news shows also included climate denial, but reporters noted that that these statements were at odds with established climate science.
- In a segment about Trump selecting Scott Pruitt as his nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency on the December 8 edition of "PBS NewsHour", anchor Judy Woodruff reported, “Pruitt is in sync with President-elect Trump on a range of issues, including his skepticism about man-made global warming. Writing in the National Review this year, he said: ‘That debate is far from settled. Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming.’ In fact, the vast majority of scientists agree that human activity contributes to global warming, all of which underscores questions about whether a Trump administration will refuse to abide by the Paris accords on greenhouse gas emissions.” And on the December 14 edition of "PBS NewsHour", Woodruff asked Sean Spicer, who was then communications director for the Republican National Committee, “Does the president-elect still believe, as he said on the campaign trail, that the science behind climate change is still not settled, in other words, something that most climate scientists say is absolutely correct?” Spicer replied by denying the consensus on human-caused climate change, stating that Trump “understands that there’s elements of man, mankind, that affect climate, but the exact impact of it and what has to be done to change that is something there is some dispute about within the community, not just science, but within the industry.” [PBS NewsHour, 12/8/16, 12/14/16]
- A November 15 CBS Evening News segment on the appointment of climate denier Myron Ebell to Trump’s EPA transition team featured footage of Trump calling climate change a “hoax,” followed by correspondent Chip Reid stating, “President-elect Donald Trump has left little doubt where he stands on the issue of climate change. He wants a dramatic increase in the production of coal and oil, which he says will create jobs. And his EPA transition team is being led by Myron Ebell, a leading climate change skeptic. Ebell, who is not a scientist, disagrees with the overwhelming majority of climate scientists who say the driving force behind the warming planet is the burning of fossil fuels.” [CBS Evening News, 11/15/16]
- The December 14 edition of ABC’s "World News Tonight" featured footage of Trump transition official Anthony Scaramucci denying climate change by arguing, “There was overwhelming science that the Earth was flat. ... We get a lot of things wrong in the scientific community.” Correspondent Brian Ross introduced Scaramucci’s comments as “a Trump transition official continu[ing] the public assault on established science.” [ABC’s World News Tonight, 11/14/16]
Because hosts or correspondents on these programs noted that the statements in question contradicted mainstream climate science, they were not counted as denial in our study.
Climate scientists were completely absent from ABC’s "World News Tonight" . . . again
For the second consecutive year, ABC’s "World News Tonight" did not feature a single scientist in its climate coverage
ABC’s "World News Tonight" did not feature a single scientist in its climate coverage for the second year in a row. By contrast, "NBC Nightly News" and "CBS Evening News" featured five and six scientists, respectively, and PBS NewsHour featured 18.
Sunday shows did not feature a single scientist in climate-related coverage
After featuring just two scientists over a five-year period from 2009 to 2013, the Sunday shows featured seven scientists in 2014 alone, and then backslid in 2015, quoting or interviewing just two scientists (4 percent of all Sunday show guests). In 2016, that backslide continued, with the Sunday shows featuring no scientists in their climate-related coverage.
PBS and CBS frequently aired coverage related to climate-related scientific research, while NBC and ABC did so less often
PBS and CBS far outpaced their counterparts in the number of segments focusing on climate-related scientific research that they aired on nightly news shows. "PBS NewsHour" aired 10 segments on climate-related scientific research, including a segment that featured scientists explaining climate change’s influence on wildfires in Southern California and flooding in Louisiana; "CBS Evening News" aired seven segments on climate-related research, including a segment featuring interviews with scientists who discovered unprecedented rates of sea ice melt in the Arctic Circle. Conversely, "NBC Nightly News" aired just three segments on climate-related research, and ABC’s World News Tonight aired just two. None of the Sunday shows featured any segments on climate-related scientific research. [PBS NewsHour, 8/17/16; CBS Evening News, 3/4/16]
Sunday shows’ climate coverage dropped by 85 percent
Every network’s Sunday show significantly decreased its climate coverage
After dropping slightly from a high of 81 minutes of coverage in 2014 to 73 minutes in 2015, the Sunday shows’ climate coverage dropped 85 percent to just 11 minutes of coverage in 2016 — the third-lowest amount in the eight-year time frame Media Matters has examined. Every network saw significant declines in Sunday show coverage, with Fox leading the way (down 32 minutes from the previous year), followed by NBC (down 17 minutes), CBS (down 10 minutes), and ABC (down four minutes).
Bernie Sanders brought up climate change four times as much as hosts did on ABC, CBS and NBC Sunday shows
On every Sunday show except "Fox News Sunday", Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., brought up climate change significantly more often than the hosts themselves did. ABC’s This Week, CBS’ "Face the Nation", and NBC’s "Meet the Press" aired a combined five segments in which the hosts brought up climate change, while Bernie Sanders brought up climate change 21 times during his appearances on those shows. Because our study counted only those segments where a media figure brought up or discussed climate change, those 21 segments were not counted in this study's overall network tallies.
Nightly news shows on ABC, CBS and NBC aired roughly half as much climate coverage as they did in 2015
"NBC Nightly News" and "CBS Evening News" significantly decreased climate coverage, and ABC once again lagged behind network counterparts
The nightly news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC collectively decreased their climate coverage from approximately 73 minutes in 2015 to just over 39 minutes in 2016 — a drop of 46 percent. "NBC Nightly News" had the biggest drop in climate coverage, decreasing by about 22 minutes, followed by "CBS Evening News", which had a drop of approximately nine minutes. ABC’s "World News Tonight", which aired significantly less climate coverage than its competitors in 2014 and 2015, once again continued its downward trend, dropping even further from roughly seven minutes of climate coverage in 2015 to just four minutes in 2016.
For second year in a row, PBS aired more climate coverage than all other nightly news programs combined
For the second consecutive year, "PBS NewsHour" aired more segments addressing climate change than the other nightly news shows combined. "PBS NewsHour" aired 46 climate-related segments, while ABC (five), CBS (19), and NBC (12) aired a combined 36 climate-related nightly news segments. However, PBS NewsHour’s climate coverage decreased from 2015, when the network aired 58 climate-related segments.
CBS and NBC nightly news shows have stepped up climate coverage in early months of 2017
In 2017 so far, "CBS Evening News" has already aired more than half the amount of climate coverage it did in all of 2016
In the first few months of 2017, "CBS Evening News" has already aired about 17 minutes of climate-related coverage, just eight minutes less than the show aired for all of 2016. In fact, "CBS Evening News" aired nearly half as much climate coverage as it did in all of 2016 in just one week of 2017; this coverage was during a series of climate-related reports from Antarctica for its “Climate Diaries” series. [Media Matters, 2/13/17]
In early months of 2017, "NBC Nightly News" has already aired nearly half as much climate coverage as it did in all of 2016
In just over two months, "NBC Nightly News" has already aired about five minutes of climate-related coverage, roughly half as much as the show aired for all of 2016.
This report analyzes coverage of "climate change" or "global warming" between January 1, 2016, and December 31, 2016, on four Sunday news shows (ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, NBC's Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday) and four nightly news programs (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and PBS NewsHour) based on Nexis transcripts. Fox Broadcasting Co. airs Fox News Sunday but does not air a nightly news equivalent; Fox News is a separate cable channel. PBS NewsHour is a half-hour longer than its network nightly news counterparts, but it airs five days a week, compared to seven days a week for the other nightly news shows (PBS NewsHour Weekend was not included in this analysis). In one instance, Nexis categorized a segment that did not mention "climate change" or "global warming" as being about climate change; because the segment provided other clear indications that it was indeed about climate change, it was included. To identify the number of segments networks aired on the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, we used the search terms Keystone w/20 pipe! And Dakota w/20 pipe!.
Our analysis includes any segment devoted to climate change, as well as any substantial mention (more than one paragraph of a news transcript or a definitive statement by a media figure) about climate change impacts or actions. The study did not include instances in which a non-media figure brought up climate change without being prompted to do so by a media figure unless the media figure subsequently addressed climate change. We defined media figures as hosts, anchors, correspondents, and recurring guest panelists. The study also does not include teasers if they were for segments that aired later on the same program. We acquired time stamps from iQ media and applied them generously for nightly news segments when the overall topic was related to climate change. For instance, if a nightly news segment about an extreme weather event mentioned climate change briefly, the entire segment was counted as climate coverage. However, if a significant portion of the segment was not related to climate change, such as a report on the pope giving a speech about climate change, immigration, religious freedom, and outreach to Cuba, only the portions of the segment that discussed climate change were counted. For the Sunday shows, which often feature wide-ranging discussions on multiple topics, we used only the relevant portion of such conversations. All coverage figures have been rounded to the nearest minute. Because PBS NewsHour is an hour-long show and the other networks’ nightly news programs are half-hour shows, our analysis compared PBS NewsHour's climate coverage to other nightly news programs' coverage in terms of topics covered and number of segments, but not in terms of number of minutes.
Research intern Katherine Hess and Sarah Wasko contributed to this study.