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How Broadcast TV

Networks Covered Climate

Change in 2017

An Analysis of Nightly News and

Sunday Shows

Available online at

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Broadcast TV news neglected many critical climate change stories in 2017 while
devoting most of its climate coverage to President Donald Trump. Seventy-nine
percent of climate change coverage on the major corporate broadcast TV networks
last year focused on statements or actions by the Trump administration, with heavy
attention given to the president's decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement
and to whether he accepts that human-caused climate change is a scientific reality.
But the networks undercovered or ignored the ways that climate change had real-
life impacts on people, the economy, national security, and the year’s extreme
weather events -- a major oversight in a year when weather disasters killed
hundreds of Americans, displaced hundreds of thousands more, and cost the
economy in excess of $300 billion.

Top trends from a year of broadcast TV news climate coverage

For this study, Media Matters examined 2017 coverage of climate change on
broadcast TV networks, which included segments devoted to climate change and
segments in which a media figure made substantial mention of climate change. We
analyzed coverage on ABC's, CBS', and NBC's nightly news programs and Sunday
morning political shows. We also analyzed FOX Broadcasting Co.’s syndicated
Sunday morning political show, Fox News Sunday. FOX Broadcasting Co. does not
have a nightly news program, so, overall, there was far less FOX airtime to
analyze. In addition to the corporate broadcast networks, we examined weekday
coverage on PBS's nightly news program, PBS NewsHour. PBS does not have a
Sunday morning political show.

Key findings:

 The Trump administration drove climate coverage in 2017: 79 percent of the

time that corporate broadcast networks spent covering climate change, or
205 out of 260 total minutes, featured actions or statements by the Trump
administration. The networks gave vastly less coverage to the many ways
that climate change affects people's lives through its impacts on things like
extreme weather, public health, and national security.

 Virtually all coverage of climate change on Sunday shows -- 94 of 95

minutes -- revolved around the Trump administration.

 President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris
climate agreement dominated coverage of climate-related policies and news
events, being featured in 52 percent of all climate segments on the corporate
broadcast networks. The Trump administration's rollbacks of other climate
protections like the Clean Power Plan received far less coverage.

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 Despite 2017 being a record year for weather and climate disasters, the
corporate broadcast networks rarely covered the link between climate change
and extreme weather events in the U.S. They aired only four total
segments that discussed climate change in the context of disasters that
happened last year, including just two that mentioned climate change in the
context of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, or Maria.

 CBS and PBS led all broadcast networks in the number of segments they
devoted to climate change in 2017, as well as in coverage of climate-related
scientific research and number of climate scientists interviewed or quoted.
But CBS and PBS were also the only two networks to feature guests
who flatly denied that human activity causes climate change.

 Network climate coverage in 2017 heavily featured climate denial, most of

which came from Trump and officials in his administration. Nineteen
percent of the networks' climate-related segments mentioned that Trump has
called climate change a "hoax," and 37 percent of those did not rebut that
claim by noting the scientific consensus around climate change or affirming
the reality of climate change.

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Trump dominated climate coverage in 2017

Majority of climate coverage on corporate broadcast networks featured

actions or statements by the Trump administration. In 2017, ABC's, CBS', and
NBC's nightly news and Sunday morning programs, plus FOX Broadcasting
Co.’s Fox News Sunday, aired a combined 260 minutes of climate coverage. Of that
total, 79 percent, or 205 minutes, featured actions or statements by the Trump
administration, most often President Donald Trump’s decision on the Paris
agreement and his personal views on whether human-caused climate change is a
scientific reality.

Analyzing the coverage in terms of the number of segments, instead of minutes,

also showed a heavy focus on the Trump administration. We counted climate-
related segments on ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX, plus those on PBS NewsHour, and
found that out of 188 total segments, 68 percent, or 127 segments, were about
actions or statements by the Trump administration.

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While the Trump administration's unprecedented attacks on climate protections

certainly warranted attention, the broadcast networks' coverage was too narrowly
focused on the Paris decision and Trump's climate denial. Attacks on the Clean
Power Plan, auto fuel-economy standards, and other important climate policies did
not receive adequate coverage. And the corporate broadcast networks often missed
important climate stories that did not involve Trump, including developments in
climate science and the impacts of climate change on extreme weather, public
health, and the economy.

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Virtually all of the Sunday show climate coverage revolved around the
Trump administration. The Sunday shows aired a combined 95 minutes of
climate coverage this year, 94 of which featured actions or statements by the
Trump administration -- most often Trump’s decision on whether to remain in the
Paris climate agreement.

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More than two-thirds of nightly news coverage of climate change was

about the Trump administration. On the corporate nightly news programs,
Trump did not entirely monopolize climate coverage, but he was still the focus of a
heavy majority. Out of a combined 164 minutes of nightly news climate coverage
on ABC, CBS, and NBC, 68 percent, or 112 minutes, featured Trump administration
statements or actions.

Looking at the number of segments, and including PBS NewsHour, we found that
still about two-thirds were focused on Trump. Out of 163 climate segments on the
nightly news shows, 65 percent, or 106 segments, featured Trump administration
actions or statements. On every network, a majority of coverage was related to the
Trump administration, with ABC’s World News Tonight having the highest
percentage of Trump-related climate coverage (78 percent), followed by CBS
Evening News (71 percent), PBS NewsHour (61 percent), and NBC Nightly
News (56 percent).

Broadcast networks' heavy focus on Trump in their 2017 climate coverage

followed their failure to cover climate change as a campaign issue during
2016. During the presidential campaign in 2016, the corporate broadcast networks
did not air a single segment informing viewers how a win by Trump or Hillary
Clinton could affect climate change or climate policy, as we reported in our previous
version of this annual study. After Trump won the presidency, the networks played
catch-up, covering the Trump actions that they had failed to warn viewers about
the year before. [Media Matters, 3/23/17]

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Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement dominated

networks’ coverage of climate policies

Nearly half of all climate segments in 2017 were about Trump’s decision on
the Paris climate agreement. The broadcast networks devoted significant
coverage to the run-up to and aftermath of Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S.
from the Paris climate agreement. On June 1, Trump formally made the
announcement, at the time making the U.S. one of only three countries in the world
not intending to participate in the Paris accord (the other two have since signed
on). Out of the 188 total climate segments the broadcast networks aired in 2017,
45 percent, or 85 segments, featured discussion of the Paris agreement. [Business
Insider, 6/1/17; The New York Times, 11/7/17]

Trump administration’s moves to roll back the Clean Power Plan and other
climate-related regulations received relatively little coverage. In March,
Trump signed an executive order to begin the process of rolling back Obama-era
regulations aimed at fighting climate change, including the Clean Power Plan, which

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established the first-ever federal limits on carbon emissions from coal-fired power
plants and served as the linchpin of President Barack Obama’s program to meet the
obligations of the Paris agreement. In October, Scott Pruitt, administrator of
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), advanced the process by proposing to
officially repeal the Clean Power Plan. But though the rollbacks of the Clean Power
Plan and other climate protections will have real effects on Americans and the
quality of the air they breathe, the networks gave them relatively little attention.
They aired just 26 segments on rollbacks of climate protections and 16 segments
on the Clean Power Plan specifically. [Media Matters, 3/30/17; The
Guardian, 2/9/16; The Washington Post, 10/9/17]

Networks did not mention climate change in a single segment on the

Dakota Access or Keystone XL pipelines. Shortly after his inauguration, Trump
signed executive orders green-lighting the Dakota Access and Keystone XL
pipelines. The Dakota Access Pipeline is now pumping oil, and plans for Keystone XL
are moving forward. Both projects have garnered strong opposition from Native
American tribes and environmental activists, partly because they would lead to
increased carbon dioxide emissions and worsen climate change. Tribes and green
groups pursued lawsuits last year to halt the pipelines, and in March, Native
American groups marched in Washington, D.C., to protest the Dakota Access
Pipeline. Yet, none of the networks discussed the pipelines’ implications for climate
change. The Keystone XL Pipeline did come up in an interview that touched on
climate change between Scott Pruitt and host George Stephanopoulos on the March
26 episode of ABC’s This Week. However, Pruitt only brought up the pipeline to
praise the president for creating jobs and did not discuss its potential impact on
climate change. [The Guardian, 1/24/17, 3/10/17; InsideClimate
News, 3/30/17; ABC’s This Week, 3/26/17]

Networks devoted some coverage to actions to fight climate change --

many of which were spurred by Trump’s decision to withdraw from the
Paris agreement. Though the Trump administration's moves dominated climate
coverage, the networks also aired 36 segments that featured statements and
actions to combat climate change by local and state leaders, businesses, and
others. Many of these actions were announced in reaction to Trump’s Paris decision.
For example, on June 2, after covering Trump's Paris announcement, CBS Evening
News aired a story about the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of governors formed
“to honor the commitment of the [Paris] agreement.” [CBS Evening News, 6/2/17]

The People’s Climate March received almost no coverage on Sunday

shows. The People’s Climate March, which took place on April 29, 2017, marked
the 100th day of Trump's presidency and was a protest of his administration's
moves to roll back climate protections. The main march on the National Mall in

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Washington, D.C., attracted an estimated 200,000 people, according to organizers,

and more than 375 satellite marches were held around the U.S. and the world.
Three of the four Sunday morning shows took no note of the march at all, and
ABC's This Week mentioned it only briefly. [The Washington Post, 4/29/17]

Networks generally failed to connect the dots between climate change and
2017’s record-setting natural disasters

2017 was a record year for weather and climate disasters, yet corporate
broadcast networks provided scant discussion of climate change in their
coverage of extreme weather events. 2017 was the costliest disaster year in
the U.S. history. Weather and climate disasters in the country cost $306 billion in
total damages, and 16 extreme weather events each cost more than $1 billion in
damages. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria were particularly destructive. Maria
alone displaced hundreds of thousands of people and may have led to more than
1,000 deaths.

Numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies have linked climate change to stronger

and more damaging hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, heat waves, and other forms of
extreme weather. Recent research has even quantified the extent to which climate
change exacerbated specific weather events. For example, in December, two
scientific studies reported that climate change had increased Hurricane Harvey's
rainfall by at least 15 percent.

Yet the corporate broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX -- aired just four
total segments that discussed climate change in the context of the hurricanes or
other 2017 weather disasters. PBS, by contrast, aired eight such segments. The
networks aired three more segments that covered the links between climate change
and extreme weather events outside the U.S. [The Washington
Post, 1/8/18, 12/13/17, 12/6/17; CBS News, 12/5/17; The New York
Times, 12/18/17; Media Matters, 9/14/17, 7/5/17; InsideClimate
News, 7/11/17;, 5/1/17; USA Today, 5/12/17]

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Networks mentioned climate change in segments on the following extreme weather

events in the United States:

● 2017’s major hurricanes, Harvey, Irma, and Maria, were covered in seven
segments that mentioned climate change on PBS (5), CBS (1), and NBC (1).
ABC and FOX did not bring up climate change during any segments on the

● The June heat wave that affected large swaths of the Southwest was covered
in two segments that mentioned climate change, one on PBS and one on

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● The July wildfires in the Western U.S. were covered in one segment on CBS
that mentioned climate change.

● The December wildfires in Southern California, which included the state’s

largest wildfires since 1932, were covered in three segments that mentioned
climate change, all of which ran on PBS. None of the other networks linked
the fires to climate change. [, 12/26/17]

● A Florida drought and record rainfall in Missouri were mentioned in a June

segment on ABC about climate change.

The networks aired an additional 19 segments that mentioned that climate change
exacerbates extreme weather, but these segments only discussed the connection in
general terms and did not refer to a specific 2017 weather event.

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Networks ignored climate change in their coverage of numerous other

weather disasters. While the networks did devote climate coverage to the
weather events outlined above, they neglected to mention climate change in
connection with other natural disasters, including wildfires in the Pacific Northwest
and Montana, extreme flooding in California, and wildfires in Northern California's
wine country. [Media Matters, 12/20/17; NPR, 2/28/17; E&E News, 10/12/17]

A recent report found that U.S. media outlets consistently failed last year
to explain how extreme weather is connected to climate change. The
nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen recently released a report that analyzed
coverage on U.S. TV and radio programs and in newspapers, which found that the
vast majority of stories on weather disasters did not mention climate change. In the
most extreme example, 96 percent of stories about 2017’s historic hurricane
season did not note the role that climate change plays in intensifying hurricanes.
[Public Citizen, 1/5/18; Media Matters, 1/10/18]

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Networks rarely covered how climate change affects national security,

public health, and the economy

Even though the impact of climate change on extreme weather events received too
little coverage, other important impacts of climate change got even less attention.
The second most covered impact was abnormal weather trends, such as increased
global temperatures and melting glaciers. Overall, the many ways that climate
change affects human society and the natural world were severely undercovered in

PBS led the networks in coverage of abnormal weather trends. PBS provided
the most coverage of climate-related abnormal weather trends, airing 12 such
segments, followed by CBS and NBC (eight segments each), and ABC (three
segments). FOX did not air any segments on abnormal weather trends linked to
climate change. Examples of abnormal weather reporting include a PBS
NewsHour segment that discussed how rising temperatures and melting sea ice in
the Arctic are heightening the danger of floods and storms for Alaskan native
communities, an NBC segment about how climate change is causing significant loss
of glaciers in Glacier National Park, and a CBS segment that discussed Arctic sea ice

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“shrinking at a rate never seen before.” [PBS NewsHour, 8/2/17; NBC Nightly
News, 11/12/17; CBS Evening News, 4/22/17]

PBS and CBS led the networks in coverage of sea-level rise, while ABC and
FOX ignored it. A number of studies published in 2017 found that sea-level rise is
proceeding faster, and may be more severe, than previous research indicated. PBS
and CBS aired the most segments on rising sea levels: seven each. NBC aired three
segments, while ABC and FOX both neglected to address the topic in their climate
coverage. [E&E News, 12/29/17]

CBS provided the most coverage of climate-related impacts on plants and

wildlife. CBS covered the impacts of climate change on plants and wildlife the
most (six segments), followed by NBC and PBS (four segments each), and ABC
(three segments), while FOX aired no segments on the subject. A September
17 CBS Evening News story, for example, noted that climate change threatens
more than 300 bird species. [CBS Evening News, 9/17/17]

Corporate broadcast networks aired just four combined segments on

climate change’s public health impacts. The World Health Organization, the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Public Health
Association all consider climate change a public health threat. In March, E&E News
reported that “11 medical associations — representing around half the doctors and
physicians in the country — are creating a group that intends to address the links
between climate change and health risks.” And a report published in the British
medical journal The Lancet in October concluded that climate change is already
having “potentially irreversible” impacts on human health. But the corporate
broadcast networks largely neglected to cover the important connections between
climate change and health: CBS aired just two segments on the links, NBC and FOX
each aired one segment, and ABC aired none. PBS, by comparison, aired five
segments on the links between climate change and public health, including a July 5
segment that reported that climate change could mean that “people living in the
South … will be hit more with heat-related complications, like heatstroke.” [World
Health Organization, accessed 2/8/18; Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, accessed 2/8/18; American Public Health Association,
accessed 2/8/18; E&E News, 3/17/17; USA Today, 10/30/17; PBS
NewsHour, 7/5/17]

CBS and NBC rarely covered economic impacts of climate change, while
ABC and FOX ignored the topic. CBS aired only two segments on the ways
climate change affects the economy, while NBC aired just one segment and ABC
and FOX both aired none. PBS NewsHour covered climate change’s economic
impacts in five segments, including one on May 31 in which climate scientist

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Michael Oppenheimer explained that the costs associated with EPA greenhouse gas
regulations are “less than the cost of the damages that climate change will bring.”
PBS also aired a March 29 segment reporting that “rising sea levels, accelerated by
global warming, mean forests of mangroves [in the Florida Everglades] are moving
far inland, killing off the natural habitat” -- part of degradation of the Everglades
that puts billions of dollars' worth of economic activity at risk. [PBS
NewsHour, 5/31/17, 3/29/17]

Networks rarely discussed national security implications of climate

change. For nearly three decades, the Defense Department has considered climate
change a national security threat. Yet, in December, Trump broke with the
Pentagon’s long-standing policy, as well as the view of Secretary of Defense James
Mattis, and removed climate change from the list of threats outlined in the White
House’s National Security Strategy report. The broadcast networks rarely
mentioned how climate change affects national security. It came up in just three
segments, one each on CBS, NBC, and PBS, including a June 4 segment on
CBS’ Face the Nation in which host John Dickerson quoted German Chancellor
Angela Merkel’s comment that “climate change affects drought and famine and war”
in Africa. [Vox, 1/12/18; HuffPost, 12/18/17; CBS’ Face the Nation, 6/4/17]

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Network climate coverage heavily featured climate denial, largely from

Trump and his officials

Climate segments often highlighted Trump’s “hoax” claim without

rebuttal. Prior to and during the presidential campaign, Trump frequently claimed
that climate change is a “hoax.” Nineteen percent of the broadcast networks’
climate-related segments in 2017 quoted or aired footage of Trump making his
“hoax” claim -- 35 segments out of a total of 188. And 13 of the segments that
included Trump’s “hoax” quote -- more than a third of them -- did so without noting
the scientific consensus around climate change or affirming the reality of climate
change. [Media Matters, 5/26/16]

Trump officials frequently obfuscated on whether the president believes

that climate change is caused by humans. In an interview with The New York
Times two weeks after the 2016 election, Trump said, “I think there is some
connectivity” between human activity and climate change -- which might sound like
a moderate position, but is in fact at odds with the scientific consensus that human
activity is the primary cause of global warming. Broadcast network journalists
sought to clarify Trump’s stance in subsequent interviews with Trump officials but
were often met with obfuscation. In nine segments on the broadcast networks,
Trump officials deflected questions about whether the president believes climate
change is happening. The officials alternately stressed that Trump believes human
activity plays some role in climate change (without specifying how much), that he
believes the “climate changes,” or that his views were “evolving.”

For example, in a June 4 segment on CBS' Face the Nation, host John Dickerson
and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley had the following exchange:

DICKERSON: Does the president believe in climate change, ambassador?

HALEY: He believes the climate is changing and he believes pollutants

are part of that equation. […]

DICKERSON: That seems to be a difference from what the president has

said. Before he had said, "I do not believe in climate change," and he has
called it a "hoax." So you're saying that's not true, he believes in man-
made climate change?

HALEY: The president believes the climate is changing, and he does know
that pollutants are a part of that equation.

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DICKERSON: So he believes that human activity, which creates those

pollutants, leads to climate change. Is that right?

HALEY: I mean, John -- John, I just gave you the answer. I mean that's -
- that's what he believes. And so that's as clear as I know to give it.

Similarly, Scott Pruitt avoided giving host George Stephanopoulos a clear answer
about whether Trump continued to believe climate change is a hoax on the June 4
episode of ABC’s This Week. Despite Stephanopoulos pressing for clarity on the
issue, Pruitt merely said that Trump believes “the climate changes” and that his
conversations with the president focused on “the merits and the demerits of the
Paris agreement” rather than on Trump's beliefs regarding climate change. [The
New York Times, 11/23/16; Media Matters, 5/26/16; Union of Concerned
Scientists, accessed 2/8/18; CBS’ Face the Nation, 6/4/17; ABC’s This Week,

Trump officials adopted new tack of “lukewarm” climate denial, and most
networks failed to accurately identify it as denial. A number of journalists
have written about a relatively new approach to climate denial adopted by some
Republicans and Trump appointees, which was pervasive during confirmation
hearings for Trump nominees in early 2017. The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer
described it thusly: “A nominee first recognized the reality of ‘some’ global
warming—sounding appropriately grave and concerned about it—before they
pivoted to casting doubt on whether humans were behind this warming, or even
whether a human influence could ever be known at all.” Vox’s David Roberts and
other climate journalists and advocates have described these sorts of deniers as
“lukewarmers.” As Mashable’s Andrew Freeman wrote, “In hearing after hearing,
Trump's cabinet nominees slipped through Democrats' grasp by uttering reasonable
enough statements that still significantly mischaracterized the state of climate
science, which holds that global warming is largely human-caused and is an urgent
threat — one that can only be addressed by making drastic cuts to greenhouse gas
emissions. … They moved from outright climate denial to a more subtle, insidious
and risky form.” [Media Matters, 3/16/17; Vox, 1/12/17; Mashable, 1/24/17]

Out of 15 news segments that featured lukewarm climate denial -- including

interviews with Trump officials on Sunday shows -- 10 segments (67 percent) did
not accurately describe it as a form of climate denial. For example, a segment
about Scott Pruitt’s confirmation hearing on the January 18 episode of ABC’s World
News Tonight featured footage of Pruitt saying that he did not believe climate
change is a hoax, but it failed to note that he disputed human activity’s role in
causing climate change. By contrast, CBS -- the only network that accurately
described lukewarm denial in all segments that featured it -- reported in a January

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24 segment that Pruitt stated that “scientists continue to disagree about the degree
and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” but
immediately followed Pruitt’s comments with the Union of Concerned Scientists’
Rachel Cleetus explaining, “This is the sort of climate denial that says, ‘Yes, it's
real. But we don't know what's causing it.’ And basically, it's yet another way to
kick the can down the road and not take any action.”

Pruitt's lukewarm denial was also on display on the Sunday shows. In a June 4
exchange, Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s Meet the Press, failed to note that Pruitt’s
statements were at odds with the scientific consensus that greenhouse gases
resulting from human activity are the dominant cause of global warming:

CHUCK TODD: Do you believe that CO2 is the primary cause [of climate

SCOTT PRUITT: CO2 contributes to climate change, much like-- Methane

actually is more potent.

TODD: You don't believe that CO2 is the primary cause.

PRUITT: No, no. I didn't say that. I said it's a cause.

TODD: Primary?

PRUITT: It's a cause of many. It's a cause like methane and water vapor
and the rest.

TODD: All right, Scott Pruitt, I'm going to leave it there, because I know
you've got to run.

PRUITT: Thanks, Chuck.

FOX’s Chris Wallace, on the other hand, noted the scientific inaccuracy of Pruitt's
claims during his April 2 interview with the EPA administrator on Fox News Sunday.
After airing footage of Pruitt downplaying the role of carbon dioxide in climate
change, Wallace said, “Mr. Pruitt, there are all kinds of studies that contradict you.
The U.N.'s panel on climate change says it is at least 95 percent likely that more
than half the temperature increase since the mid-20th century is due to human
activities. NOAA, that's our own National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,
says there's more carbon dioxide now than in the last 400,000 years, and NOAA
says 2015 and 2016 are the two hottest years on record. Mr. Pruitt, are we
supposed to believe that that's all a coincidence?” [ABC’s World News Tonight,

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1/18/17; CBS Evening News, 1/24/17; NBC’s Meet the Press, 6/4/17; Fox News
Sunday, 4/2/17]

CBS and PBS hosted guests who flatly denied climate change. CBS and PBS
were the only two networks to air interviews with subjects who explicitly disputed
the scientific consensus that human activity is the primary cause of global warming.

 The October 10 episode of PBS NewsHour featured an interview with coal

executive Robert Murray. Correspondent John Yang asked him, “You don’t
see climate change as an issue or a problem at all, despite what other
scientists say?” Murray replied, “I do not. I do not, because I listen to 4,000
scientists, and who tell me that mankind is not affecting climate change.” It's
unclear to which scientists he was referring. Yang concluded the interview
after Murray’s comment and did not push back against his claim. [PBS
NewsHour, 10/10/17]

 On April 22, CBS Evening News aired an interview with Joe Bast, president of
the Heartland Institute, a denialist conservative think tank, which began with
correspondent Dean Reynolds stating, “Scientists may worry about melting
polar ice, rising seas, or strengthening storms. But to Joe Bast, all of what
others call warning signs of climate change are just the natural order of
things.” Bast told Reynolds, “The efforts to stop global warming or slow it
down are way disproportional to what the science suggests would be
necessary,” and Reynolds paraphrased Bast as saying that climate change is
“a naturally occurring cyclical phenomenon caused mostly by the sun, not an
approaching disaster accelerated by carbon dioxide emissions caused by
humans.” Reynolds did note in the segment, however, that “most climate
scientists, the United Nations, as well as NASA, dismiss these arguments as
propaganda for fossil fuels.” [CBS Evening News, 4/22/17]

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PBS and CBS did the best job of covering climate science

2017 was a notable year for climate research. 2017 saw a wealth of
important and alarming developments in climate-related scientific
research. To name just a few: Early in 2017, NASA and the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration confirmed that 2016 was earth’s hottest year on
record. In March, scientists reported that sea ice in both the Arctic and Antarctic
was at its lowest-ever levels, and three months later scientists concluded that 30
percent of the world's population is currently at risk of experiencing deadly heat
waves. In October, a report found that tropical forests, which were once thought to
be carbon sinks, are actually a net carbon source. In November, the Global Carbon
Project reported that global carbon dioxide emissions are again on the rise after
remaining flat for three years. December saw the release of research in the
developing field of attribution science, which assesses how climate change has
influenced individual extreme weather events: Two studies quantified the extent to
which climate change boosted Hurricane Harvey's rainfall, and another set of
studies found that human-caused climate change was a “significant driver” for 21 of
27 extreme weather events in 2016. Many of these developments received no
network coverage at all. [, 1/18/17; E&E News, 12/29/17;

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InsideClimate News, 6/19/17; The Washington Post, 12/13/17; The New York
Times, 12/14/17]

PBS and CBS led the networks in coverage of climate-related scientific

research. Though both networks hosted guests who explicitly denied the climate
science consensus, PBS and CBS still did the best job of reporting on climate
science in 2017, airing 15 and 12 segments, respectively. For example, a PBS
NewsHour segment on the Southern California wildfires in December featured two
scientists discussing the link between climate change and wildfires, and a CBS
Evening News segment in July cited Columbia University research on how extreme
heat from climate change may limit aircraft takeoffs. NBC aired eight segments on
climate-related scientific research, ABC aired five, and FOX aired none. [PBS
NewsHour, 12/13/17; CBS Evening News, 7/15/17]

PBS featured more scientists than the other networks combined. PBS
NewsHour interviewed or quoted more scientists in its climate coverage than all the
other networks combined -- 29 scientists, compared to a total of 27 scientists for
the others. CBS interviewed or quoted 14 scientists, NBC featured 10, ABC featured
three, and FOX featured none.

For second year in a row, Sunday shows did not feature a single scientist in
climate-related coverage. For two consecutive years, the Sunday morning news
shows have not featured any scientists in their climate coverage. The high point
was in 2014, when Sunday shows had a combined seven scientists on as guests to
discuss climate change. In 2015, they featured two scientists. [Media Matters,

PBS and CBS led the networks in covering the Trump administration’s anti-
science moves as they relate to climate change. The Trump administration has
carried out a wide array of anti-science actions, including targeting climate science
in budget cuts, weakening science advisory boards and stacking them with industry
allies, disregarding scientific input, and scrubbing scientific data and the words
“climate change” from government websites. PBS and CBS led the networks in
coverage of the Trump administration’s efforts to suppress or hamper science as
related to climate change, airing 10 and eight segments, respectively. ABC aired
five such segments, NBC aired two, and FOX aired none. [Media Matters,
8/17/16; Union of Concerned Scientists, July 2017; InsideClimate
News, 5/24/17; Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, accessed 2/8/18]

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CBS led corporate networks in nightly news coverage of climate change,

while FOX led in Sunday show coverage

Among the corporate broadcast networks, CBS outpaced nightly news

competitors. CBS Evening News provided more coverage of climate change (90
minutes) than the other two corporate networks' nightly news shows
combined. NBC Nightly News came in second (43 minutes), while ABC’s World News
Tonight gave the least amount of coverage (31 minutes).

PBS led all broadcast nightly news shows in climate change

segments. When considering public broadcaster PBS as well as corporate
broadcast networks, PBS NewsHour featured the highest number of climate change
segments (69), followed by CBS Evening News (44), NBC Nightly News (27), and
ABC’s World News Tonight (23).

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FOX led the Sunday shows in climate coverage. Among the Sunday shows, Fox
News Sunday featured the most climate coverage (42 minutes), and CBS’ Face the
Nation featured the least (seven minutes). In between were ABC’s This Week (26
minutes) and NBC’s Meet the Press (21 minutes).

Evlondo Cooper and Lisa Hymas contributed research to this report. Charts by
Sarah Wasko.

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This report analyzes coverage of climate change between January 1, 2017, and
December 31, 2017, 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).

To identify news segments that discussed climate change, we searched for the
following terms in Nexis: climate change, global warming, changing climate, climate
warms, climate warming, warming climate, warmer climate, warming planet,
warmer planet, warming globe, warmer globe, global temperatures, rising
temperatures, hotter temperatures, climate science, and climate scientist. In some
instances, Nexis categorized a segment that did not mention one of our search
terms as being about climate change, and if the segment provided other clear
indications that it was indeed about climate change, it was included. In addition, we
counted all segments about the Paris climate accord as climate change segments,
since the purpose of the accord is to address climate change. To identify segments
networks aired on the Paris accord, we ran the following search in Nexis: paris
climate, climate accord, paris accord, climate agreement, paris agreement, and
climate deal.

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 a politician giving a speech about climate change, immigration, voting
rights, and the economy, only the portions of the segment that discussed climate

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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. In the text of the report, 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.

Media Matters for America/Climate & Energy Program