In 2021, national TV news has done a much better job of linking extreme weather events to climate change. During the record-breaking Western heat wave in July, 38% of broadcast and cable news segments from July 8-12 made the connection to climate change, while 36% of wildfire coverage from July 21-27 made the connection. More recently, Media Matters found that broadcast and cable TV news shows aired a combined 95 segments from August 11 through August 18 on myriad extreme weather events that spanned the globe and that just over 30% of these segments referenced climate change. By comparison, extreme weather events last year failed to propel TV news to discuss the climate crisis, including when temperatures in a small community in Siberia hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit in June 2020 followed by record-breaking and prolonged heat in large swaths of the U.S. and the most powerful hurricane to hit Louisiana in 150 years.
Recognizing that national news programs have begun to more consistently link climate-driven extreme weather events to global warming, Media Matters conducted another analysis of recent extreme weather segments that aired on broadcast morning and evening news shows as well as all original programming on the major cable news networks. Our goal was to determine if, in addition to linking these events to climate science, this reporting also told a congruent story about extreme weather that incorporated the need for climate action, while highlighting how extreme weather events affect socially marginalized or vulnerable populations.
Our findings indicate that national TV news coverage of climate change is still failing to contextualize who is at greater risk from climate-driven extreme weather and why; still failing to detail how climate inaction has brought us to this precarious moment and what actions are needed to stave off the worst consequences of climate change; and still failing to grasp how seemingly disparate extreme weather events from around the world are connected.
Rather than resting on their collective laurels, broadcast news shows and cable news networks must continue to address their climate coverage’s glaring blind spots. With peak hurricane season looming, coupled with a nearly year-long wildfire season, they will unfortunately have continued opportunities to do so.