31 of the 50 Top U.S. Papers Did Not Cover Announcement of Possible Extinction of 1 Million Plant and Animal Species

For Immediate Release:
May 20, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – When U.S. television news networks discuss climate change and its impacts, few news reports call the phenomena a “crisis” or “emergency,” a designation clearly merited by the science, a Public Citizen report shows.

According to the report, in 2018, only 50 of 1,429 national television news segments (3.5 percent) that mentioned climate change referred to it by either of these terms. CNN had the most mentions with 26, but it trailed MSNBC and NBC in the rate of mentions. MSNBC used the terms crisis or emergency in 7 percent of its segments; NBC in 6 percent; and CNN in 3 percent.

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In 2018, Fox News mentioned the words crisis or emergency in relation to climate change on five occasions. All five were attempts to minimize the issue with false logic, mockery or misinformation.

Public Citizen reporting media not reporting on climate change

“Words matter. So the words we use to characterize an issue make a difference in how it is perceived and prioritized politically,” said David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen’s Climate Program. “When media outlets consistently fail to use language that conveys that climate change is a crisis or emergency, they unwittingly put a heavy thumb on the scale in favor of complacency and inaction.”

The report comes as the Climate Reality Project and Public Citizen launching a campaign on May 1. A campaign to pressure national television news outlets to call climate change a crisis – and cover it like one. The campaign includes a petition drive, a letter to network CEOs and a May 8 Tweet storm aimed at the networks.
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The first quarter of 2019 saw a spike in mentions of climate as a crisis or emergency. Through April 24, 141 segments referred to climate change by those terms, almost triple the number for all of 2018. However, a major reason for the increase was the president’s declaration of a national emergency at the border. Sixty-three percent of the uses of crisis or emergency language in 2019 discussed whether a future Democratic president could use the same power as Trump to designate climate change as a national emergency.

The number still improved significantly if one excludes segments discussing Trump’s emergency declaration. The adjusted figure is 52 uses of crisis or emergency in the first quarter of 2019, which is more than the total for 2018 (50). This is a positive trend, but the percentage of mentions is still far too low. I mean with only 7 percent of all segments in 2019 referring to climate change as a crisis or emergency, the report stated.

“Climate coverage on broadcast and cable television news is still at best spotty and at worst riddled with misinformation,” said Allison Fisher, outreach director for Public Citizen’s Energy Program. “Calling it a crisis indicates that the stakes are high and that the issue is urgent. Most of all it signals to viewers that the time to act on climate is now.”

For the analysis, Public Citizen evaluated television news transcripts that included the word “crisis” or “emergency” within 75 words of “climate change” or “global warming.” Public Citizen used Nexis to search transcripts from six national television news networks: ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, MSNBC and NBC.

Read the full report here.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A recent announcement that 1 million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction because of human activity received scant coverage in top newspapers, a new Public Citizen report finds.

Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history – and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely,” said a May 6 summary report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

The report summary noted that climate change is the third leading cause of this extinction. Other causes are changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms, pollution and invasive alien species.

But a review of the first week of newspaper coverage of this sobering warning reveals that 31 of the top 50 newspapers in the United States did not report, editorialize about or otherwise mention the U.N.’s finding in their print editions.

The search was limited to the top 50 newspapers by circulation. So it omitted many significant local dailies.  For example The Palm Beach Post and The Charlotte Observer. Also Capitol Hill publications like The Hill, Politico and Roll Call. Nor did the search include trade or online publications, such as Greenlivingguy.com, Grist or E&E News. The goal was to get a snapshot of how the largest papers, read by millions, were handling the announcement.

“It’s astonishing that 31 of the top 50 U.S. papers didn’t see fit to print that humans are causing one of the fastest mass extinctions in planetary history.  Also that it will take 10 million years to recover from.  Those comments came from David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen’s Climate Program. “A paper that doesn’t print this or other major climate-related news is failing at its core function! Thereby reporting on critical issues of our time.”

Some of the publications that covered the U.N. report summary did so in depth. That’s with editorials and opinion pieces in addition to news stories. The papers that covered the summary produced 48 total pieces. Pieces that at least referenced the U.N. report.
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And the full report from IPBES releasing later this year.  Thereby giving papers another chance to inform their readers. Inform them about the devastation we are doing to the natural world.

Public Citizen’s analysis also found that:

1) Among pieces that covered the report, 67% connected the possible extinction of 1 million species to the climate crisis;

2) The Washington Post produced the most coverage, with nine pieces, including three columns and an editorial;

3) Twenty-nine percent, or 14 of the articles, were reprints from other publications or wire services. Eight of the 14 reprints were of an Associated Press article;

4) Eight major newspapers editorialized on the report; and

5) Twenty percent of articles, columns and editorials about the U.N. report discussed barriers to saving threatened species such as efforts by the Trump administration to weaken the Endangered Species Act.

“What papers did right provides a road map for other news outlets when the full U.N. report comes out,” said Allison Fisher, outreach director for Public Citizen’s Climate Program. “As with the climate change crisis, massive loss of biodiversity is a story. A story that requires consistent coverage and reporting. One that connects human existence and behavior to the habitats and climate we depend on. Some papers are doing just that. The ones that are not should.”

To cover the report, media outlets can use multiple voices and reporting styles (such as with editorials, columns and news stories), use humor, connect the report to the climate crisis, localize the findings, discuss solutions, put the report in political context, reprint good coverage and listen to readers.

Find press releases and additional media contacts here.

Source: Public Citizen

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