Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.
After failing to note the impact of climate change on hurricanes in their coverage of Hurricane Harvey, ABC and NBC both discussed the link while covering Irma, Media Matters has found in a new analysis of coverage of the more recent storm. But NBC did a better job: It ran a segment that featured a scientist explaining the climate-hurricane connection, while ABC’s sole mention of climate change was cursory and failed to provide viewers with much information.
Media Matters also analyzed weekday prime-time cable news coverage of Irma and found that Fox News continued its pattern of dismissing climate change, while MSNBC provided extensive coverage of the link between climate change and hurricanes.
This new analysis of Irma coverage builds on a recent Media Matters study that looked at broadcast and cable news coverage of Hurricane Harvey.
Climate scientists have explained how climate change exacerbates some of the worst impacts of hurricanes like Harvey and Irma: Rising sea levels lead to worse storm surges; warmer temperatures increase the amount of moisture in the atmosphere and lead to more rainfall; and warmer ocean waters make the storms more intense.
Broadcast networks: After dropping the ball with Harvey, NBC covers link between climate change and hurricanes in Irma coverage, and ABC gives climate a brief mention
Media Matters found that during Hurricane Harvey coverage from August 23 to September 7, ABC and NBC completely failed to discuss the link between climate change and hurricanes on any of their morning, nightly, or Sunday news shows. NBC did notably better during its coverage of Hurricane Irma, while ABC made only slight improvement, according to a new analysis of coverage from September 4 — two days before Irma reached Puerto Rico — to September 13.
On September 9, an NBC Nightly News segment featured an interview with Oscar Schofield, chair of the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University, who explained, “The ocean is going to continue to warm, and the predictions from a lot of the climate scientists are that we’re going to get more and more of these extreme events.” On that same day’s episode of NBC’s Today, correspondent Kerry Sanders introduced a segment about sea level rise by saying, “Whether you accept or don’t what scientists say that global warming is raising our world’s oceans, there’s an undeniable fact here on Miami Beach: They’ve had to raise the sidewalks and roads … [because] much of Miami Beach goes under water.”
On the other hand, ABC’s sole mention of climate change during Irma coverage was brief and uninformative. After ABC meteorologist Ginger Zee answered viewer questions about Irma on the September 11 episode of Good Morning America, host George Stephanopoulos said, “I want to throw out one more question, because a lot of people look at these two back-to-back hurricanes — two powerful hurricanes back-to-back — and think there must be some connection to climate change.” Zee responded, “And I think it’s irresponsible not to talk about the warmth of the earth, and you have to get that,” but then she went on to another subject and said nothing about how climate change influences storms.
In Irma coverage on the other broadcast networks, CBS aired two segments discussing the impact of climate change on hurricanes on CBS This Morning, while PBS aired none (though it did discuss how climate change worsens storm surges in a September 4 segment on flooding in Bangladesh on PBS NewsHour). During their coverage of Hurricane Harvey, CBS and PBS each aired three segments highlighting climate change’s impact on hurricanes.
Prime-time cable: MSNBC provided extensive coverage of the link between climate change and hurricanes, while Fox attacked those who made such a link
Media Matters’ analysis of Hurricane Harvey coverage on the major cable networks’ prime-time weekday shows found that MSNBC and CNN each aired five segments noting climate change’s impact on hurricanes. A follow-up analysis of the prime-time cable news networks’ Hurricane Irma coverage found that MSNBC aired more segments discussing the climate-hurricane link and CNN aired fewer.
From September 4 to September 13, MSNBC aired 13 prime-time segments that discussed climate change’s impact on hurricanes, in some cases including multiple discussions of climate change in a one-hour block. For instance, on September 8, the 8 p.m. broadcast of MSNBC Live on featured three segments in which host Chris Hayes brought up climate change with guests, and the 10 p.m. broadcast featured two instances of host Ali Velshi raising the topic of climate change. MSNBC hosts also brought up the climate-hurricane link on the September 6 and September 11 episodes of All In with Chris Hayes; the September 7, September 8, and September 13 episodes of Hardball with Chris Matthews; the September 13 episode of The Beat with Ari Melber; and the September 8 and September 12 episodes of MTP Daily.
CNN’s prime-time weekday Irma coverage featured two segments about the relationship between climate change and hurricanes from September 4 to September 13. Erin Burnett discussed the Trump administration’s refusal to talk about climate change in the wake of the hurricanes on the September 13 episode of Erin Burnett OutFront. The same topic came up on the September 12 episode of CNN Tonight during Don Lemon’s interview with Bob Inglis of RepublicEN and climate denier Myron Ebell, who dismissed the link between climate change and hurricanes by citing an overblown statistic about the lack of major hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S. since 2005.
Fox News’ prime-time Irma coverage included four mentions of climate change, but they were not informative. The network’s hosts discussed the climate-hurricane link the same way they did during Harvey coverage: by criticizing those who raised the issue. The September 11 and September 13 episodes of Fox’s The Five both featured lengthy discussions in which hosts accused people who brought up climate change’s impact on Hurricane Irma of behaving inappropriately, saying that they were making claims based on “anecdotal evidence,” acting out of liberal “guilt,” and attempting to shame people. The five-minute group rant on the September 11 episode ended with co-host Dana Perino claiming that actress Jennifer Lawrence had blamed Donald Trump for the hurricanes — a mischaracterization of her actual statement. Fox ran another misleading segment about Lawrence’s comments on the September 8 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight. According to The Daily Beast, Lawrence’s comments also came up on four other occasions during Fox’s weekend coverage of Irma.
Fox’s final prime-time mention of the link between climate change and Hurricane Irma came during the September 13 episode of The Story with Martha MacCullum, in which MacCullum said “things got political” during a celebrity telethon for hurricane relief when Stevie Wonder brought up climate change.
Media Matters ran the search terms “Irma AND (climate OR warming OR emission! OR carbon OR CO2 OR greenhouse gas!)” in Nexis and searched for “climate change” and “global warming” in SnapStream to identify segments between September 4 and September 13 that mentioned both the hurricane and climate change.
On the broadcast networks, we examined the morning, evening, and Sunday news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as PBS NewsHour, the only PBS program archived in Nexis. For CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, we examined the networks’ prime-time shows that air on weekdays from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
We counted instances of network hosts, anchors, correspondents, and recurring guest panelists mentioning climate change but excluded instances when other guests brought up climate change unprompted.
Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters