Clamoring for Kyoto

The Networks’ One-Sided Coverage of Global Warming

Recommendations For the Networks

With the exception of the Fox News Channel, the networks stacked the deck when it came to this year’s debate over global warming policy. By refusing to show any skeptics or critics of environmentalists’ belief that only regulatory schemes such as the Kyoto Protocol could halt the climate damage they say is being caused by industrial emissions of greenhouse gases, the President’s actions seemed (at best) to be short-sighted, unscientific decisions designed to offer near-term economic benefits at the risk of long-term harm to the climate. By showcasing the President’s critics in the aftermath of each decision, the networks created the impression that Bush’s actions were environmental errors, not reasonable policy choices.

By revealing the existence of scientists and other experts who disagree with the liberal environmental orthodoxy on global warming, the Fox News Channel was different. As a network, FNC was hardly an apologist for the Bush administration; like the others, FNC gave more airtime to environmentalists who were critical of the President’s anti-regulatory moves. But on the other networks, the theory of human-induced global warming was undisputed; on FNC, it was more properly treated as just another opinion that had supporters and opponents.

Here are just three steps that the networks could take which would improve future coverage of this important issue:

  • Because the political and economic debate over global warming policy is also a scientific debate, the networks need to tell viewers about scientific findings and arguments that cast doubt on environmentalists’ global warming theories. When reporters pretend that science has settled every important question about human effects on long-term climate, they are being more than superficial — they are twisting the facts to favor one side of the policy debate over the other.

  • Include all salient facts. Environmentalists were given considerable airtime to attack President Bush’s decision that the United States would not implement the Kyoto agreement, but ABC, CBS and NBC never balanced those attacks by telling viewers that Kyoto has essentially been a dead deal for the past several years. Instead of helping these activists frame the issue in a way that helped their side, network correspondents need to make sure that viewers have all of the necessary background information they need to judge the merits of both sides’ arguments.

  • Balance the comments of environmental activists with the views of free market experts. One major reason why the network coverage of this debate was so heavily lopsided was because pro-regulation activists outnumbered conservative experts by 20 to 3. Network news is supposed to inform viewers about all major points of view on public issues, not serve as a public relations office for the environmental movement. The networks need to do a better job of reporting the views of free market experts — and stop giving liberal environmentalists a free ride.

1CNN’s Inside Politics and FNC’s Special Report were selected for inclusion in the study because they provided regular coverage of political issues, making them the cable programs most similar to the early evening news broadcast offered on ABC, CBS and NBC. To further ensure direct comparability, unique features of the cable programs — journalist roundtables and lengthy interviews with newsmakers — were excluded from the study, which only examined traditional field reports and anchor-read briefs.