Facts Frozen Out: Network News and Global Warming

Expert Soundbite Sources

The skewed nature of the global warming debate in the media is illustrated by whom network reporters interviewed for soundbites. In the 48 stories during the study period, there were 60 soundbites from those who thought global warming was a problem and favored drastic policy solutions. Ten soundbites came from the other side, with only two of those coming from scientists. (Fifteen soundbites came from neutral sources.) Reporters often used soundbites to frame the debate as being between science and environmental activists on one side and industry on the other. On the October 22, 1997 NBC Nightly News, for instance, correspondent David Bloom pitted the Sierra Club's Dan Becker (who said the Clinton plan to curb greenhouse emissions "is like fighting a five-alarm fire with a garden hose") against a representative of the coal industry, who claimed the Clinton plan would cost jobs. Scientists skeptical of global warming were ignored. NBC News, though, did come the closest to balance of all the networks. Twice the Nightly News used its "In Their Own Words" segment to allow critics of global warming policies to speak. On the July 8, 1996 broadcast, Singer made the case against human-induced global warming and then on October 7, 1997 Thomas Moore of the Hoover Institution argued that global warming would extend growing seasons and, since people in warmer climates live longer, aid public health. But these were the exceptions. For the most part, the media debate over global warming has been one-sided, with the legions of skeptical scientists left out.


Sallie Baliunas Harvard-Smithsonian Ctr. for Astrophysics (202) 296-9655
Richard Lindzen Massachusetts Institute of Technology (617) 253-0098
Patrick Michaels University of Virginia (804) 924-7761
William Nierenberg Scripps Institution of Oceanography (214) 534-6126
Frederick Seitz
(former President, National Academy of Sciences)
Rockefeller University (212) 327-8423
S. Fred Singer University of Virginia
(also, Science & Environmental Policy Project)
(703) 503-5064
Chauncey Starr Electric Power Research Institute (415) 855-2909

Polls from groups as diverse as Greenpeace and Citizens for a Sound Economy show that most climate scientists are skeptical of claims that the climate change of the 20th century has been a result of greenhouse gas emissions. This is news to network reporters. A study from the MRC's Free Market Project demonstrates that over the past five years reporters have presented a highly distorted picture of the global warming debate. Specifically, researchers found:

1) Thirty-nine of the 48 network evening news stories during the study period simply assumed that science supports global warming theories. Only seven stories mentioned that climate scientists are skeptical of claims that humans are changing the earth's temperature.

2) Of the seven stories which did mention that scientists are skeptical of global warming theories, only two brought up the actual arguments of skeptical scientists. (There were two stories during the study period that neither assumed climate change nor brought up arguments against global warming.)

3) Only two of the 48 stories pointed out that some scientists believe global warming, if it did occur, would be a boon to human health and well-being. The other 46 stories assumed global warming would be disastrous.

4) Only 10 of the 85 soundbite sources reporters interviewed opposed policies aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions, while 60 soundbite sources supported such policies. Fifteen sources were neutral.

In order for their stories to be balanced, reporters must present the arguments of the many climate scientists who are skeptical of claims that humans are disastrously warming the planet. So far, such scientists have rarely been heard from on the evening news.