Clamoring for Kyoto

The Networks’ One-Sided Coverage of Global Warming

All Gloom and Doom Forecasts

In his book, The Costs of Kyoto, Fred Smith of the Competitiveness Enterprise Institute noted that if there is indeed a shift towards warming, "it will largely occur at night, in the winter, and at higher latitudes. Such a warming pattern would lengthen growing seasons and, by reducing temperature variations over time, tend to reduce extreme weather events. Furthermore, higher levels of carbon dioxide increase plant growth and thus increase agricultural production."

University of Virginia climatologist Patrick Michaels made the same point in testimony before the House Subcommittee on National Economic Growth, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs in 1999. Michaels recounted that global temperatures rose by about 0.6" Celsius (or 1" Fahrenheit) during the last century. "Crop yields quintupled. Life span doubled, in part because of better nutrition. Winters warmed. Growing seasons lengthened. The planet became greener. Increasing carbon dioxide had something to do with each and every one of these," Michaels explained. "There is simply no reason to assume that doing the same, this time in 50, instead of 100 years, will have any different effect in kind."

But the notion that global warming could be anything but the disaster predicted by the environmental establishment was completely ignored on ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN, whose coverage of this aspect of global warming during the time period covered by the study focused on a sensational summary of a much longer United Nations report predicting catastrophic climate changes in the next 100 years.

NBC’s Tom Brokaw offered only the most extreme scenario on January 22: "A new report from a United Nations conference says that global temperatures could rise as much as 10 degrees this century. That’s the biggest rate of change in the climate in 10,000 years." On the February 19 CBS Evening News, reporter Byron Pitts cast climate catastrophe as just retribution: "This is punishment, say scientists, for sins of the past, the end result of years of pollution....In the Midwest, deadly heat waves and severe droughts. And in the Northeast, what is now precious waterside property could one day be underwater. Scientists say it’s no longer a matter of if, but when."

With the exception of the Fox News Channel, the networks treated the U.N.’s "Summary for Policymakers" as above reproach. "Because it’s a sensitive issue, government representatives went over it line by line," explained ABC’s Peter Jennings on February 19, adding that the report predicted "more freak weather changes, including cyclones, drought and floods, massive displacement of populations." But Jennings didn’t need to be convinced by the U.N. — four days earlier, the ABC anchor had relayed without challenge the claims of the World Wildlife Fund that global warming is melting ice caps in the Himalayan mountains of Nepal, threatening to flood villages. "The Wildlife Fund calls it a time bomb," Jennings intoned.

The Fox News Channel’s David Schuster was the only reporter who did not present the U.N. report as a call to action. Schuster uniquely pointed out the politics behind the U.N. paper: "The report comes just two months after international negotiations on industrial emissions broke down and, with U.N. scientists openly admitting they’re trying to get everybody back to the negotiating table, critics of the report are having a field day, claiming the numbers have been cooked." Schuster then quoted climatologist Richard Lindzen, who participated in the U.N. process but who argued that the summary was highly exaggerated. "It came from having scenarios with horrific and unimaginable emissions and putting them in the most sensitive [climate] model," Lindzen said.

Another American scientist who participated in the creation of the U.N. report also repudiated the spin of the "Summary for Policymakers." Dr. John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, told the London Times on February 20 that "there are 245 different results in that report, and this was the worst-case scenario. It’s the one that was not going to happen. It was the extreme case of all the different things that can make the world warm."

But network correspondents seem truly convinced by environmentalists’ gloomy global warming forecasts. A Nexis search revealed an interesting exchange on CBS’s The Early Show on April 18, just before Earth Day. During "co-op time" — a discussion among the CBS morning personalities made available to those few stations that don’t offer local news during scheduled breaks, host Bryant Gumbel asked if the rest of his show colleagues believed in global warming; all affirmed that they did. While not included in this study of evening news programs, the Early Show conversation revealed both an unquestioning belief in the assertions made by some of the most fervent global warming activists, and horror that President Bush would pursue any policies that were not endorsed by liberal environmental activists. (See box).

Genuine disagreement within the scientific community exists about whether anything human beings are doing is really changing the planet’s climate and whether such changes would be positive, neutral or negative. For reporters, the most basic requirement is to report on all sides of a debate. While FNC fulfilled that expectation, the three broadcast networks did not, since not one of the global warming stories they produced this year even hinted at the existence of climate scientists skeptical of catastrophic global warming, let alone offered viewers a chance to hear their contrary views.