Clamoring for Kyoto

The Networks’ One-Sided Coverage of Global Warming

Except on Fox News, No Debate Over Global Warming

Four years ago in "Facts Frozen Out," a Special Report by the MRC’s Free Market Project, Timothy Lamer reported that an examination of ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC’s coverage from 1993 to 1997 showed a wide majority of network news stories on global warming (81%) "simply assumed that science supports warming theories," and that any human-induced warming that might be forthcoming over the next century would be destructive.

Yet despite the obviously lopsided tilt in favor of those who argue that industrial emissions are causing catastrophic global warming, Lamer managed to find a handful of network stories that informed audiences about the many scientists who are skeptical of those theories. Now, four years later, experts who depart from liberal environmental orthodoxy have been completely erased from the picture at those same networks; only the Fox News Channel (which was not available for the previous study period) conveyed both sides of the global warming debate to viewers.

0504014During the 2001 study period, FMP researchers catalogued 49 statements from network reporters or news sources either affirming liberal environmentalists’ dire global warming scenarios or professing skepticism. Of those, 86 percent expressed the view that climate change was a real threat, compared with only 14 percent — just seven statements — that challenged that assumption.

But six of those seven statements were on the Fox News Channel. (See chart.) Looking only at ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC — the four networks that were included in the 1997 study — a nearly unanimous 97 percent of all comments reflected just the liberal side of the global warming debate. ABC, CBS and NBC totally excluded skeptics from their coverage during the study period, while the only hint CNN gave that science had not yet settled all of the key questions was on March 14, when environmental correspondent Natalie Pawelski cited a statement from President Bush in which he referred to "the incomplete state of scientific knowledge" of the causes and solutions to global warming.

Pushing the premise that the regulation of industrial emissions is the only way to avoid more climate damage, CBS’s John Roberts opened his March 28 story on Bush’s Kyoto decision by summoning images of weather disasters: "Global temperatures on the rise, glaciers retreating, storms more frequent and severe — a looming crisis, say many scientists, of the greenhouse effect. Yet, claiming potential harm to the economy, the White House today confirmed it will abandon the global accord to curb emissions of carbon dioxide, the number one greenhouse gas."

Even in stories that were not focused on the politics of global warming, reporters asserted the environmentalists’ line on global warming. On April 13, for instance, CNN’s Jonathan Karl reported on new technology that reduces the amount of "traditional" pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, that are emitted when coal is burned. But, Karl explained, "what most concerns environmentalists now about coal power is carbon dioxide, or CO2, the gas that causes global warming....Coal can be made to burn cleaner, but it will still be a leading contributor to global warming."

In a March 29 report, CBS’s Mark Phillips peddled environmentalists’ fears as fact and wrongly labeled greenhouse gases as pollutants: "Other [critics] point to severe weather conditions around the planet: flooding, for the second consecutive year, in Mozambique; drought and famine in the Sudan. And, they say, the U.S. is substantially to blame. With only about four percent of the world’s population, the United States famously produces about 25 percent of the world’s harmful greenhouse gas pollution."

For the record, the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, is not a harmful pollutant, as Phillips claimed. As the science books they use in elementary schools explain, all green plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the atmosphere. Far from being dangerous, carbon dioxide is necessary for life to exist.

catastrophe050201FNC was the only network to offer balanced coverage of these claims. Special Report anchor Brit Hume was alone in mentioning a Boston Globe item about the graduate class at Columbia Journalism School being taught by former Vice President Al Gore. Hume reported that Gore "suggested that they [the students] should ignore the views of scientists who have questioned the dire global warming forecasts which, Gore says, have been accepted, quote, ‘by the vast majority of the world’s scientists.’... Students said after the class that Gore had suggested it was a cop-out for journalists to include such skeptical views in their coverage of global warming." (With Real Video)

Presumably, most network reporters have not had the benefit of Gore’s tutoring, but their one-sided coverage seems to indicate that they nonetheless agree with the former Vice President. In contrast to much of the media’s unanimity, many thousands of scientists reject the view that severe global warming is a settled fact and that immediate changes are needed to end mankind’s destructive influence on the environment. The state climatologist of Oregon, George Taylor, publicly wrote about his increasing doubts about the need for strict new regulations. His comments were posted on the January 14, 2000 edition of

Ten years ago, I believed the [climate] modelers that global warming was a serious problem that needed attention and intervention. As I studied the issue year by year, I became less and less convinced that the "problem" was truly serious. My current bottom line: while human activities doubtless influence climate (on a local, regional, and even a global scale), the human-induced climate change from expected increases in greenhouse gases will be a rather small fraction of the natural variations. I don’t foresee global warming causing big problems. I believe if we controlled every molecule of human emissions we would still see substantial climate change, just as we always have.

Since the Kyoto treaty was signed in December 1997, more than 17,000 scientists — including more than 2,600 physicists, geophysicists, climatologists, meteorologists, oceanographers and environmental scientists — signed a petition stating that there "is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing, or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate." But not one of these scientists was ever shown on ABC, CBS, CNN or NBC, which instead led audiences to believe that the scientific debate about the causes and extent of global warming was over.