Sunday morning political shows featured nine substantive climate segments in September, the highest number since June. The uptick in segments coincided, in part, with extreme weather events including Hurricane Dorian, but the shows either ignored or underreported stories like the Global Climate Strike and the new U.N. report on the oceans and cryosphere.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has been pushing the Sunday shows to offer more and better coverage of climate change. In May, he gave a speech from the Senate floor about the lack of climate coverage from major media outlets and the shallowness of the segments they do run. And today, Whitehouse released a scorecard on the shows' September performance:
CBS’ Face the Nation led the month with four substantive segments, followed by CNN’s State of the Union and Fox News Sunday with two each, and NBC’s Meet the Press with one. ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos didn’t run any substantive climate segments in September.
The most substantive climate segments were about extreme weather events like Hurricane Dorian, though their quality was a mixed bag
Coverage was mixed on Hurricane Dorian, one of the strongest recorded storms to make landfall in the Atlantic and the strongest storm ever to hit the Bahamas. Although the increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events like Dorian has been linked to climate change, Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace and State of the Union guest host Dana Bash framed their questions in a way that implied there was doubt about the science.
During the September 1 episode of Fox News Sunday, Wallace asked Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL):
CHRIS WALLACE (ANCHOR): One of the reasons, it seems, that -- that Dorian keeps growing is because it's traveling over so much warm water as it heads across the Caribbean, getting closer now to the Florida mainland. You have expressed mixed feelings over the years about climate change and about the role that human activity plays, but it -- it sure seems like these hurricanes are getting bigger, stronger, more intense. Do you see a connection?
CNN’s Bash interviewed acting Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor during the September 1 episode of State of the Union and asked him the following question:
DANA BASH (GUEST HOST): Researchers say that we're going to see even more very intense [storms] due to the climate crisis. Do you agree with that?
On CBS and NBC, however, both Face the Nation and Meet the Press featured strong segments that explained how climate change is increasing the frequency and destructive power of extreme weather events like Hurricane Dorian. During the September 15 episode of Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd informed his audience about the increasing fiscal and human costs of extreme weather events, noting:
CHUCK TODD (HOST): Here's the point. If there were something else that was costing around a trillion dollars a decade, thousands of lives, most voters would notice and demand for lawmakers to do something to control that cost. What's more? Climate change doesn't respect America's red/blue divide. Red Texas, purple North Carolina, and blue California are all impacted.
The Face the Nation segment, which featured CBS News’ climate change and weather contributor Jeff Berardelli, was also noteworthy because of the depth of the discussion. Berardelli touched on how humans are driving the climate crisis, the need for grassroots action around climate, and the economic consequences of climate change.
From the September 15 episode of CBS’ Face the Nation:
Jake Tapper grills Steve Mnuchin during another notable segment
The month’s other standout climate segment came during the September 22 episode of State of the Union. During a wide-ranging interview with Treasury Secretary Steve Steven Mnuchin, host Jake Tapper asked about the Trump administration’s anticipated decision to skip the United Nations climate summit. Tapper then pressed him on the potential economic consequences of the climate crisis, as detailed in a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, and the administration’s attempt to roll back a waiver allowing California to set its own vehicle emission standards. Faced with Mnuchin’s lukewarm denial and obfuscation, Tapper concluded the segment by saying, “Well, the only thing I would say is that I think climate scientists are in a near-unanimous position that much more needs to be done, and the Trump administration is not focusing on it.”
From the September 22 episode of State of the Union:
Sunday shows missed opportunities to cover important climate events
Despite these notable segments, Sunday morning political shows largely failed to cover other important climate events in September. This includes CNN’s and MSNBC’s historic climate forums and Tropical Storm Imelda, the worst storm to hit Texas since Hurricane Harvey. Although hundreds of thousands of people in the United States alone participated in the September 20 Global Climate Strike -- which received wide coverage across the media landscape -- none of the Sunday shows ran a segment about what may be the largest climate protest in history.
Lastly, none of the Sunday shows discussed the dire new Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, released by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on September 24. The report found that the global ocean has warmed nonstop since 1970, with warming likely doubling since 1993. It also found that sea level rise is accelerating, and this will “exacerbate extreme sea level events and coastal hazards.”
Sunday morning political shows will have several opportunities in October to report on climate change and climate policy, including the next presidential primary debate, which CNN will host on October 15 in Las Vegas. The shows should report on any climate discussion during that debate -- or lack thereof.