Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Climate action advocates are demanding MSM broadcast more climate change content, even if nobody wants to watch.
The Media Are Complacent While the World Burns
But there’s a brand-new playbook for journalists fighting for a 1.5°C world.
Last summer, during the deadliest wildfire season in California’s history, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes got into a revealing Twitter discussion about why US television doesn’t much cover climate change. Elon Green, an editor at Longform, had tweeted, “Sure would be nice if our news networks—the only outlets that can force change in this country—would cover it with commensurate urgency.” Hayes (who is an editor at large for The Nation) replied that his program had tried. Which was true: In 2016, All In With Chris Hayes spent an entire week highlighting the impact of climate change in the US as part of a look at the issues that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were ignoring. The problem, Hayes tweeted, was that “every single time we’ve covered [climate change] it’s been a palpable ratings killer. So the incentives are not great.”
The Twittersphere pounced. “TV used to be obligated to put on programming for the public good even if it didn’t get good ratings. What happened to that?” asked @JThomasAlbert. @GalJaya said, “Your ‘ratings killer’ argument against covering #climatechange is the reverse of that used during the 2016 primary when corporate media justified gifting Trump $5 billion in free air time because ‘it was good for ratings,’ with disastrous results for the nation.”
When @mikebaird17 urged Hayes to invite Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University, one of the best climate-science communicators around, onto his show, she tweeted that All In had canceled on her twice—once when “I was literally in the studio w[ith] the earpiece in my ear”—and so she wouldn’t waste any more time on it.
Without a serious and immediate correction, the press will continue down the same path with climate change, except this time the implications are exponentially greater. Surely, it can do better.
If American journalism doesn’t get the climate story right—and soon—no other story will matter. The news media’s past climate failures can be redeemed only by an immediate shift to more high-profile, inclusive, and fearless coverage. Our #CoveringClimateNow project calls on all journalists and news outlets to join the conversation about how to make that happen. As the nation’s founders envisioned long ago, the role of a free press is to inform the people and hold the powerful accountable. These days, our collective survival demands nothing less.Read more: https://www.cjr.org/special_report/climate-change-media.php
I’m pretty sure the definition of a free press includes the right not to surrender to pressure to repeatedly broadcast boring special interest group propaganda.