America’s journalists must do much better this time around.
By Mark Hertsgaard Yesterday 8:00 am
This article is adapted from “The Climate Beat,” the weekly newsletter of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism initiative committed to more and better climate coverage.
As the climate crisis quickens with each passing day—temperatures reached a stunning 69 degrees Fahrenheit in Antarctica last week—how much climate news will most Americans be hearing as they prepare for the November elections?
Four years ago, ahead of the 2016 elections, there was climate silence. Only one of the hundreds of questions journalists asked during Democratic and Republican presidential debates addressed climate change—and that was one more than in 2012, 2008, or any of the preceding presidential elections—even as scientists, activists, and governments around the world implored Washington to help contain the gathering crisis. The nation’s major news organizations treated climate change as a virtual non-issue, and voters acted accordingly, electing an unabashed climate denier who as president has seemingly delighted in boosting fossil fuels and trashing environmental protections, including the Paris Agreement signed by virtually all of the world’s governments, which pledged to “significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”
America’s journalists must do much better in 2020.
There are promising signs so far. Network television—which continues to attract the largest audiences in media, in an era with no shortage of options—is showing new interest in the climate story. The press as a whole seems increasingly aware of climate change and its dangers, even if most outlets still refrain from echoing the thousands of scientists who now call it an “ emergency.” Opinion-leading outlets, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, and National Public Radio, continue to improve their coverage, while outlets that emphasize climate coverage as part of their brand, such as The Guardian, PBS NewsHour, and Bloomberg, which recently launched Bloomberg Green, continue to light a path for the media writ large. Overall, however, the climate story remains marginal on the American news agenda.