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).
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.
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.
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).
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).
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
Hold fewer beliefs based in science
Are less likely to believe climate change poses a significant threat
Are less likely to support action to stop climate change (Zhao, Leiserowitz, Maibach, & Roser‐Renouf, 2011)
People who pay attention to mainstream news
Tend to trust scientists
Feel more certain about climate change
People who pay attention to conservative news
Tend to distrust scientists
Feel uncertain about climate change (Hmielowski, Feldman, Myers, Leiserowitz, & Maibach, 2013)
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.