Just 3% of News Stories about the Wildfire Epidemic Even Mention Climate Change

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You've got typically tight-lipped climate scientists saying things like:

"What we're seeing is a window into what global warming really looks like. It looks like heat, it looks like fires, it looks like this kind of environmental disaster."
and:

"This is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level. The extra heat increases the odds of worse heat waves, droughts, storms and wildfire."

You've got plenty of smart, influential scientists who are willing to be quoted in news segments describing the impact climate change has had on the record-breaking wildfires in the Southwest.

So there's really no excuse for this statistic, uncovered in a Media Matters analysis: Just 3% of the wildfire news coverage even mentions climate change or global warming at all. To be clear, that doesn't mean that 3% of the wildfire stories are about climate change—97% don't mention it at all.

Media Matters/Promo image

The bar is low: all we need is a quote buried in the bottom of the text, a one-off soundbite, a sentence for context. But nope—the vast majority of reporters, producers, and editors simply don't bother at all. It's an alarming stat because it reveals, for the seven millionth time, how deeply engrained the notion is that climate science is "controversial." That it's treated as a political belief instead of scientific fact by the mediators responsible for informing the public.

It used to work something like this: Local news stations and newspapers would run a climate change story, and get hate mail from the fringy climate change naysayers—and likely no laudatory notes from appreciative ordinary viewers (or climate advocates, for that matter). 'This makes people mad,' the beleaguered producer would say, 'so why kick the hornet's nest?' The same phenomenon afflicted national news media, to exponentially amplified effect. The dust kicked up over the Climate Gate email hacking is a fine example of those mechanics in action.

Now, high profile public officials on up to the Speaker of the House of the United States Congress have adopted views once on the fringe, seeming to validate them in the process. They've helped construct a new social norm wherein it is acceptable to openly disavow well-established scientific findings, and those opinions act as a powerful staying force against any demand for good climate reporting.

And establishment news outlets heed that norm. If they just stay quiet on the topic, the only flack they catch is from those disgruntled "environmentalists" who hold no real positions of power, aren't Very Serious People, and can be easily waved away as harboring an agenda.

And thus we find ourselves in a truly peculiar moment where scientists are pointing at record-breaking fires and heat waves and saying "This! This is what climate change looks like!" while editors and producers are going, "Well, Republicans still think it's a hoax. So let's cut out that NASA global warming bit."

Tags: Television

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