How Fox and CNN Blew It on the Antarctic Climate Disaster

Mother Jones

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Monday’s blockbuster climate news was that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is broken—already destabilized by irrevocable melting that foreshadows a slow-motion collapse. Up to 13 feet of sea-level rise might be the result. Two separate scientific papers, in the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters, found this unstoppable decline was a result of a dangerous feedback loop driven by the warming waters related to climate change: higher temperatures will result in melting ice that will, in turn, expose an even greater amount of ice to higher sea temperatures. Scientists said the process could take centuries, even a millennium, but could ultimately rewrite the world’s coastlines.

That sounds like pretty big stuff to cover in the news, right? The science itself got a ton of coverage in the print media and online. You’d think it might also deserve a bit of cable news airtime, using some good old fashioned explanatory journalism?

But as the world took in the news, cable news channels largely avoided giving their viewers a proper rundown of the science.

I took to the TV news section of the Internet Archive, which makes television news shows searchable via closed captions, and then cross-referenced my findings with LexisNexis—the online news database that provides transcripts of many cable shows. And I looked at CNN’s own transcript portal.

The results? CNN and Fox News didn’t cover the Antarctica story on air at all on Monday or Tuesday, while MSNBC covered it several times. Just one segment—on MSNBC—took the Antarctica news and produced it into a full story on its own terms, and that was the day after the news broke.

Beyond that, what news there was about climate change focused on the 2016 presidential race, in particular Marco Rubio’s recent comments to ABC’s “This Week.” “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it,” he told interviewer Jonathan Karl (in New Hampshire, no less). These comments sparked a myriad of cookie-cutter round-table discussions on cable news. Admittedly, it is a great, revealing interview, in which Rubio produces some strong language on climate change intended to cement his conservative credentials, and the whole thing is well worth watching in full: “I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy,” he said.

Here’s more detail about how each cable network covered climate change in the wake of the Antarctica findings:

Fox News

There was no mention of Antarctic melting on Fox News on Monday or Tuesday. Around 2:15 pm on Monday—more than an hour after NASA’s press conference—The Real Story With Gretchen Carlson (with Shannon Bream filling in) covered the Rubio climate story instead. “What Senator Rubio was not saying was that he believes that climate change—he’s saying that climate change is not manmade. That belies 97 percent of the world’s climatologists,” Bream’s guest Julie Roginskyâ&#128;&#139; bravely (and rightly) contended. “There is a lot of debate still about that,” Bream quickly reminded her audience, before springing away to talk about Rand Paul, who is “also in the mix for 2016.” For a moment there, I thought we might inch closer to the science.

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How Fox and CNN Blew It on the Antarctic Climate Disaster

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