Quantcast

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

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

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 Urgency of Climate Change — 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.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A verdant and productive urban garden in Havana. Susanne Bollinger / Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

When countries run short of food, they need to find solutions fast, and one answer can be urban farming.

Read More Show Less
Trevor Noah appears on set during a taping of "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" in New York on Nov. 26, 2018. The Daily Show With Trevor Noah / YouTube screenshot

By Lakshmi Magon

This year, three studies showed that humor is useful for engaging the public about climate change. The studies, published in The Journal of Science Communication, Comedy Studies and Science Communication, added to the growing wave of scientists, entertainers and politicians who agree.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
rhodesj / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Cities around the country are considering following the lead of Berkeley, California, which became the first city to ban the installation of natural gas lines in new homes this summer.

Read More Show Less
Rebecca Burgess came up with the idea of a fibersheds project to develop an eco-friendly, locally sourced wardrobe. Nicolás Boullosa / CC BY 2.0

By Tara Lohan

If I were to open my refrigerator, the origins of most of the food wouldn't be too much of a mystery — the milk, cheese and produce all come from relatively nearby farms. I can tell from the labels on other packaged goods if they're fair trade, non-GMO or organic.

Read More Show Less
A television crew reports on Hurricane Dorian while waves crash against the Banana River sea wall. Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope

Some good news, for a change, about climate change: When hundreds of newsrooms focus their attention on the climate crisis, all at the same time, the public conversation about the problem gets better: more prominent, more informative, more urgent.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) met with Bill Gates on Nov. 7 to discuss climate change and ways to address the challenge. Senator Chris Coons

The U.S. Senate's bipartisan climate caucus started with just two members, a Republican from Indiana and a Democrat from Delaware. Now it's up to eight members after two Democrats, one Independent and three more Republicans joined the caucus last week, as The Hill reported.

Read More Show Less
EPA scientists survey aquatic life in Newport, Oregon. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to significantly limit the use of science in agency rulemaking around public health, the The New York Times reports.

Read More Show Less
A timelapse video shows synthetic material and baby fish collected from a plankton sample from a surface slick taken off Hawaii's coast. Honolulu Star-Advertiser / YouTube screenshot

A team of researchers led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration didn't intend to study plastic pollution when they towed a tiny mesh net through the waters off Hawaii's West Coast. Instead, they wanted to learn more about the habits of larval fish.

Read More Show Less