For nearly four years, network news programs have presented a skewed view of global warming and the Kyoto treaty that liberal environmentalists claim would cure it. Those same newscasts have all-but ignored the negative economic consequences that ratifying Kyoto would have on the U.S. The network coverage also largely ignored scientific evidence questioning global warming theory, while touting dramatic claims of liberal environmental activists.
To document how network news has slanted the global warming debate, researchers with the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute analyzed all 165 news stories about global warming aired on the three broadcast network evening newscasts and two cable news shows between January 20, 2001 and September 30, 2004. Among the major findings:
- Global Warming More Dangerous Than Kyoto Treaty: Three times as many network stories (46 percent) featured dramatic reports about global warming’s potential impact than mentioned the downside of signing the treaty (12 percent).
- NBC, CBS and CNN Ignore Specific Cost of Kyoto: The cost to American taxpayers of adopting the Kyoto provisions have been estimated as high as $440 billion annually. ABC and the Fox News Channel were the only two networks that told viewers about the potentially crippling price tag. Even those were brief mentions in larger reports. NBC, CBS and CNN failed to pass on this essential information. No story on any network was devoted solely to discussing the treaty’s economic impact. Broadcast news shows mentioned polar bears three times as often as they discussed any cost attributed to signing Kyoto.
- Bipartisan Opposition to Treaty Unreported: Only one of 165 news stories mentioned that the Senate had voted unanimously 95-0 against Kyoto. Forty-nine stories on all five news programs cited President Bush’s blocking or pulling out of Kyoto without mentioning the unanimous vote. That unanimous resolution included Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, though that is never discussed either. The Fox Report was the only show that included this key information about the Senate opposition.
- No Science Debate Allowed: Broadcast news programs presented the claims of liberal environmentalists that global warming is a given, that mankind is to blame for it, or both, 55 percent of the time (77 stories). That’s six times more often than they showed valid scientific objection to global warming theories.
- Fox Report the Best News Show, NBC Nightly News the Worst: The best show for covering climate change was the Fox Report. It reported the cost of Kyoto and was the only show to mention the Senate vote opposing the treaty. It also made effective use of experts on both sides. Sixty-four percent of the NBC Nightly News climate change stories were pro-Kyoto – more than any other program. Only three of those stories raised questions about the science behind global warming.
- ABC’s Bob Jamieson the Best Reporter, NBC’s Robert Hager the Worst: The best reporter was ABC World News Tonight’s Bob Jamieson. Jamieson was the sole broadcast reporter who included the costs of signing the climate treaty. Reporter Robert Hager’s January 8, 2004 story earned him the title as worst reporter. Hager undermined an interview subject by referring to him as being “with a think tank funded in large part by big oil companies.”
The MRC’s Business & Media Institute report concludes with four recommendations. First, news organizations must provide a balance of experts and opinions on both sides of issues in their stories. The global warming stories show that is a major problem. Secondly, news shows need to explain the cost and impact of significant proposals like the Kyoto Treaty. Third, the networks need to be more skeptical of comments made by environmentalists, just as they are skeptical of comments from the business community. Lastly, networks need to find a way to monitor coverage over time so they can track their performance on these key concerns.