| Evlondo Cooper | MR Online

‘In even the best coverage there is no accountability for the Fossil Fuel Industry’

Originally published: FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) on March 26, 2024 (more by FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting))  |
| Media Matters 31424 | MR Online

Media Matters (3/14/24

Janine Jackson: Climate disruption is, of course, one of the most disastrous phenomena of today’s life, affecting every corner of the globe. It’s also one of the most addressable. We know what causes it, we know what meaningful intervention would entail. So it’s a human-made tragedy unfolding in real time before our eyes.

To understate wildly, we need to be talking about it, learning about it, hearing about it urgently, which is why the results of our next guest’s research are so alarming. I’ll just spoil it: Broadcast news coverage of the climate crisis is going down.

Evlondo Cooper is a senior writer with the Climate and Energy Program at Media Matters for America. He joins us now by phone from Washington state. Welcome to CounterSpin, Evlondo Cooper.

Evlondo Cooper: Thank you for having me. I’m excited about our conversation today.

JJ: We’re talking about the latest of Media Matters’ annual studies of climate crisis coverage. First of all, just tell us briefly what media you are looking at in these studies.

EC: So we’re looking at corporate broadcast network coverage. That’s ABC, CBS and NBC. And for the Sunday morning shows, we also include Fox BroadcastingFox News Sunday.

| Media Matters 31424 | MR Online

Media Matters (3/14/24)

JJ: All right. And then, for context, this decline in coverage that you found in the most recent study, that’s down from very little to even less.

EC: Yeah, so a little context: 2021 and 2022 were both record years for climate coverage, and that coverage was a little bit more than 1%. This year, we saw a 25% decrease from 2022, which brought coverage to a little bit less than 1%. We want to encourage more coverage, but even in the years where they were doing phenomenal, it was only about 1% of total coverage. And so this retrenchment by approximately 25% in 2023 is not a welcome sign, especially in a year where we saw record catastrophic extreme weather events, and scientists are predicting that 2024 might be even worse than ’23.

JJ: Let’s break out some of the things that you found. We’re talking about such small numbers—when you say 1%, that’s 1% of all of the broadcast coverage; of their stories, 1% were devoted to the climate crisis. But we’ve seen, there’s little things within it. For example, we are hearing more from actual climate scientists?

EC: That was a very encouraging sign, where this year we saw 41 climate scientists appeared, which was 10% of the featured guests in 2023, and that’s up from 4% in 2022. So in terms of quality of coverage, I think we’re seeing improvements. We’re seeing a lot of the work being done by dedicated climate correspondents, and meteorologists who are including climate coverage as part of their weather reports and their own correspondents’ segments, a bigger part of their reporting.

So there are some encouraging signs. I think what concerns us is that these improvements, while important and necessary and appreciated, are not keeping up with the escalating scale of climate change.

JJ: It’s just not appropriate to the seriousness of the topic. And then another thing is, you could say the dominance of white men in the conversation, which I know is another finding, that’s just kind of par for the elite media course; when folks are talked to, they are overwhelmingly white men. But it might bear some relation to what you’re seeing as an underrepresentation of climate-impacted populations, looking at folks at the sharp end of climate disruption. That’s something you also consider.

| Media Matters 31424 | MR Online

Media Matters (3/14/24)

EC: Yeah, we look at coverage of, broadly, climate justice. I think a lot of people believe it’s representation for representation’s sake, but I think when people most impacted by climate change—and we’re talking about communities of color, we’re talking about low-income communities, we’re talking about low-wealth rural communities—when these folks are left out of the conversation, you’re missing important context about how climate change is impacting them, in many cases, first and worse. And you’re missing important context about the solutions that these communities are trying to employ to deal with it. And I think you’re missing an opportunity to humanize and broaden support for climate solutions at the public policy level.

So these aren’t communities where these random acts of God are occurring; these are policy decisions, or indecisions, that have created an environment where these communities are being most harmed, but least talked about, and they’re receiving the least redress to their challenges. And so those voices are necessary to tell those stories to a broad audience on the corporate broadcast networks.

JJ: Yes, absolutely.

Another finding that I thought was very interesting was that extreme weather seemed to be the biggest driver of climate coverage, and that, to me, suggests that the way corporate broadcast media are coming at climate disruption is reactive: “Look at what happened.”

EC: Totally.

| CBS 71723 | MR Online

CBS (7/17/23)

JJ:  And even when they say, “Look at what’s happening,” and you know what, folks pretty much agree that this is due to climate disruption, these houses sliding into the river, it’s still not saying, “While you look at this disaster, know that this is preventable, and here is who is keeping us from acting on it and why.”

EC: Yeah, that is so insightful, because that’s a core critique of even the best coverage we see, that there is no accountability for the fossil fuel industry and other industries that are driving the crisis. And then there’s no real—solutions are mentioned in about 20% of climate segments this year. But the solutions are siloed, like there are solution “segments.”

But to your point, when we’re talking about extreme weather, when you have the most eyeballs hearing about climate change, to me, it would be very impactful to connect what’s happening in that moment—these wildfires, these droughts, these heat waves, these hurricanes and storms and flooding—to connect that to a key driver, fossil fuel industry, and talk about some potential solutions to mitigate these impacts while people are actually paying the most attention.

JJ: And then take it to your next story about Congress, or your next story about funding, and connect those dots.

| CNN 3323 | MR Online

CNN (3/3/23)

EC: Exactly. I mean, climate is too often siloed. So you could see a really great segment, for instance, on the Willow Project, at the top of the hour—and this is on cable, but the example remains—and then later in the hour, you saw a story about an extreme weather event. But those things aren’t connected, they’re siloed.

And so a key to improving coverage in an immediate way would be to understand that the climate crisis is the background for a range of issues, socioeconomic, political. Begin incorporating climate coverage in a much broader swath of stories that, whether you know it or not, indirectly or directly, are being impacted by global warming.

JJ: It’s almost as though corporate media have decided that another horrible disaster due to climate change, while it’s a story, it’s basically now like a dog-bites-man story. And if they aren’t going to explore these other angles, well, then there really isn’t anything to report until the next drought or the next mudslide. And that’s just a world away from what appropriate, fearless, future-believing journalism would be doing right now.

EC: It’s out of step, right? Pull up the poll showing bipartisan support for government climate action, because, whether people know it or not, as far as the science, —and there’s some deniers out there, but anecdotally, people know something is happening, something is changing in their lives. We’re seeing record-breaking things that no one’s ever experienced, and they want the government to do something about it.

| Evlondo Cooper It doesnt have to be about just showing the destruction and carnage There are ways that you can empower people to take action | MR Online

Evlondo Cooper: “It doesn’t have to be about just showing the destruction and carnage. There are ways that you can empower people to take action.”

And so it’s important to cover extreme weather and to cover these catastrophes. And I know there’s a range of thought out there that says if you’re just focusing on devastating impacts, it could dampen public action. But to me, to your point, report on it and connect it to solutions, empower people to call their congressperson, their representative, their senator, to vote in ways that have local impacts to deal with the local climate impacts.

It doesn’t have to be about just showing the destruction and carnage. There are ways that you can empower people to take action in their own lives, and to galvanize public support.

And the public wants it. The public is asking for this. So I think just being responsive to what these polls are showing would be a way to immediately improve the way that they cover climate change right now.

JJ: All right, then. We’ve been speaking with Evlondo Cooper of Media Matters for America. You can find this work and much else at MediaMatters.org. Evlondo Cooper, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

EC: Thank you for having me.

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