The US Media Still Failing on Climate Change

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I've taken to writing with some frequency about the mainstream media's failure to cover climate change. Among the many reasons I do so is, well, because of the mainstream media's persistent and rather abhorrent failure to cover climate change. Make sense? Thought so. And while I did dole out some blame to the media for helping to kill the climate bill, I feel that the subject warrants a post of its own. Here's how the media is still failing in its climate coverage, and how that failure helped directly kill our hopes of climate legislation.The loudest and most vehement critic of the media's global warming coverage is perhaps Climate Progress's Joe Romm -- and he has a habit of being dead-on when it comes to the subject. His recent post on 'How the status quo media failed on climate change' is a must read if we (journalists and readers) hope to learn any lessons from the failure this go-round.

Certainly, any journalists or writers covering beats related to climate, energy, or politics should take note. But more importantly, readers should be demanding more from their news sources -- we should demand that the sound science that supports climate change be given its due in coverage, and not allowed to be buried in the muddle of the 'he-said she-said' narratives that much of the press seems to prefer.

Regardless, here are a few of Romm's criticisms of the media's coverage of climate and the climate bill over the last year, and they're all apt:

During a crucial time period for the debate, valuable print real estate and TV time was devoted to grossly imbalanced and inaccurate coverage of the stolen e-mails and the like, rather than simply explaining the science.

We have seen again and again the media skew the debate and misrepresent our increasing understanding of how dire the climate situation according to the latest science:

Boykoff on "Exaggerating Denialism: Media Representations of Outlier Views on Climate Change": Freudenburg: "Reporters need to learn that, if they wish to discuss 'both sides' of the climate issue, the scientifically legitimate "other side" is that, if anything, global climate disruption is likely to be significantly worse than has been suggested in scientific consensus estimates to date."

That's true, and perhaps the biggest issue confronting general climate-focused journalism as a whole -- reporters feel the need to 'balance' their stories, and talking to a climate denier who works at a think tank funded by the fossil fuel industry hardly counts as accurate balance.

But another major issue that Romm notes is how the media often fails to incorporate climate change into its stories at all -- it fails to note the role that global warming may have in extreme weather events, or even record high temperatures! The NY Times, for instance, just ran a collection of stories about the East Coast heatwave -- with nary a mention of climate change, as Joe Romm notes. The fact is, though no particular weather event is caused by climate change per se, climate change is creating conditions that make heatwaves, drought, and, yes, extreme snowfall, more likely. This should certainly be part of the MSM's story when applicable.

The failure on both these fronts has helped sew confusion among the public, and helped prevent Americans from taking a greater interest in the passage of climate and clean energy reform. Here's Romm with the final word:

But there is no question that most of the traditional, status quo media simply doesn't get the dire nature of the climate situation that our latest understanding of science makes clear ... If the media won't stand up to the well-funded, poll-tested disinformation campaign, then the public's view of climate is unlikely to change dramatically until we have a series of unambiguous signals ...

More on Climate Reporting
Why is Climate Change Coverage Still Lacking in the Media?
The Quest for 'Perfect Climate Information'

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