When climate change first become a public issue, journalists reported the views of the scientific community. Over time, climate change became a political issue, and news coverage came to reflect that. Journalists feel a responsibility to show a balanced view of every issue (Gans, 1979), and so the news media often give a voice to climate skeptics in an effort to achieve what feels like balanced coverage (Boykoff & Boykoff, 2007).

In this video from 1980, Walter Cronkite warns that our climate is changing. At this point, climate change has yet to become a political issue. Cronkite merely delivers the views of the scientific community.

Today, TV news shows routinely invite on climate change deniers with no scientific credentials to discuss climate change, as they did after the release of 2018 federal report on climate change.

TV news shows pay very little attention to climate change, despite the severity of the issue (Media Matters for America, 2019). Part of the problem is that journalists routinely fail to connect extreme weather to climate change (Public Citizen, 2019), so powerful storms, wildfires and heat waves are not covered as climate stories.

 
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People understand issues that are covered more frequently and prominently to be more important (McCombs & Shaw, 1974). By failing to cover climate change, reporters make the problem feel inconsequential.

Journalism needs events. We need clear causes, agents and forces to be visibly responsible. We need... a narrative of baddies and goodies. Where the climate is concerned, things are slow-moving, complex, and what’s more, we ourselves are the baddies. That’s not something listeners and viewers want or wanted to be told.
— Mark Brayne, Former BBC Correspondent

When TV news shows do cover climate change, they tend to focus on the problem while spending very little time discussing possible solutions (Media Matters for America, 2019).

 
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Conservative new outlets sometimes pay more attention to climate change than other outlets (Media Matters for America, 2018), but they treat it not as an issue of national importance, but as another battlefront in the culture war.

In general, conservative news media tend to privilege the voice of skeptics. Fox News largely dismisses climate change and rejects its human causes. It also interviews a large proportion of climate doubters (Feldman, Maibach, Roser-Renouf, & Leiserowitz, 2012).

 

In this segment from Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace discusses climate change with a panel of conservative pundits. His panelists argue (a) that scientists are still debating climate change and (b) that dealing with climate change would hurt the economy.

 

By giving a voice to climate skeptics, news outlets undermine the authority of the scientific community, leading readers and viewers to feel less concerned about climate change (Malka, Krosnick, Debell, Pasek, & Schneider, 2009).

 

People who pay attention to science news

  • Hold more beliefs based in science

  • Believe climate change poses a significant threat

  • Support action to stop climate change

 

People who pay attention to political news


 

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People who pay attention to mainstream news

  • Tend to trust scientists

  • Feel more certain about climate change

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People who pay attention to conservative news


 

Surprisingly, Republicans who watch CNN or MSNBC are more likely than Democrats to believe that climate change is happening. This may be because conservatives tend to see matters in black and white rather than in shades of gray (Kruglanski, 2004). Conservatives who watch MSNBC listen to scientists and environmentalists and cultivate the view of the scientific community.