Corporate-controlled media outlets have figured out that debate, or more appropriately heated debate and confrontation, can generate larger audiences than a bunch of people sitting around a table agreeing with one another. And this can work for some topics, such as the best way to tackle immigration reform or how to reduce the federal budget deficit.
But when faced with an issue that clearly only has one side, the corporate media continues to parade anti-reality talking heads into their studios, hoping that they can help boost ratings. That is what has happened with the issue of climate change.
The American media have not been the only guilty parties. Media outlets in other parts of the world have been just as willing to put climate change deniers on television to spread misinformation about an issue that will effect the lives of all of earth’s inhabitants.
But unlike the American media, outlets in the rest of the world have realized that the issue of climate change is far too important to allow deniers on their networks to attack the scientific consensus with no actual evidence.
This month, the BBC instructed its reporters to stop giving credence to climate change deniers on the air. The network said that they do want to remain neutral on scientific issues, but that there is a very real distinction between neutrality and false balance. Think Progress explains the difference between the two:
A new poll from Yale University and George Mason shows that the percentage of Americans who don’t believe in climate change rose 7% in 2013 to 23% of the entire population. While 63% of the general public believes that climate change is occurring, only 47% believe that human activities are to blame. The poll also revealed that less than 50% of Americans believe that climate change will affect their lives, but 65% say that it could harm future generations.
The answer is that the misinformation machine has kicked into high gear, and 2013 saw a massive increase in the amount of climate change denial being given a microphone throughout various forms of media.
Polls over the last year tell us that the vast majority of Americans (70%) understand that climate change is taking place, with 54% saying that they believe human activities are to blame. 72% of Americans believe that the government should make dealing with climate change a priority.
Why then did the mainstream media devote more time to Vice President Joe Biden’s smile than to climate change in their coverage of this year’s elections? That is a difficult question to answer.
In the months and weeks before the election, independent media outlets were begging both candidates and the traditional media to “end the climate silence,” and finally bring up the issue of global climate change. Instead, we were treated to stories about Joe Biden’s smile and Paul Ryan’s workout routines.
Media Matters has released a new report, detailing the issues that the mainstream press covered, instead of devoting time to covering an issue that, as the polls tell us, is of utmost importance to American citizens.
North America just witnessed the hottest month in the history of record keeping (about 117 years). The month of July shattered every previous record, but was certainly not a freak occurrence. So far, the first 7 months of this year have been the warmest on average since records began over a century ago. Media outlets were abuzz with coverage of floods, droughts, fires, and storms, so naturally you’d think climate change would have played a massive role in their coverage.
According to the study, only about 25% of print articles on the massive heat wave even mentioned climate change, while less than 9% of TV news stories about the weather mentioned climate change. Of the major cable outlets, MSNBC devoted the most time to discussing climate change, bringing up the issue in about 88% of their stories on the heat wave.
Large portions of the U.S. are on fire. Record droughts currently encompass massive swaths of America. The areas not experiencing droughts have been inundated with flooding. Winter weather in many areas was almost non-existent. A few years ago, an Academy Award-winning film called “An Inconvenient Truth” warned wary Americans that all of these events would become the new normal due to climate change. But these are no longer warnings – this is the reality that we’re living in now.
It is becoming increasingly more difficult to ignore the evidence of extreme weather that surrounds all of us. And it isn’t just the United States. Every corner of the globe is experiencing the direct effects of climate change in some form or fashion. And again, we were warned that all of this was going to happen.
My hometown of Gulf Breeze, Florida feels like it's been a petri dish for climate change disaster stories. In the past month, we’ve had two separate droughts that were both ended by flash flooding. In between these events, we avoided a hit from pre-season tropical storm Debby, which turned eastward and drenched central Florida with torrential rains. Last weekend we had a heat index of 112 degrees, and I awoke this morning (again, after weeks of drought) to find half of my yard underwater due to coastal flooding.
In the U.S., the reality of climate change has certainly been an eye opener for many Americans.
When it comes to climate change misinformation, arguably no single person has done more to spread false information to confuse the public than Rupert Murdoch. With his vast media empire that spans the globe, Murdoch has helped misdirect the public, as well as to openly advocate against government policies that would curtail carbon emissions or impose other environmental safeguards.
The range of findings show a clear political bias against the carbon pricing policy moving through parliament in 2011:
The claims by many single sources about the likely impact of the carbon policy were not tested against the views of other sources. Only 42% of the rest of the articles included more than two sources.
Fossil fuel lobby and other big business sources opposed to the policy were very strongly represented, often without any critique or second source.
Business sources (23%) receive more coverage than all Australian civil society sources together including unions, NGOS, think tanks, activists, members of the public, religious spokespeople, scientists and academics (17%).
Business sources quoted 4 or more times over the 6-month period were quoted being negative towards the policy in almost 80% of occasions. Many Australian readers would have been left with the impression that the nearly the entire business community was opposed to the carbon price policy. In fact this was far from the truth.
Academics and scientists were also poorly represented.
When it comes to climate change denial, a new study shows that the folks at Fox News are leading the pack. Through politically-charged news segments and commentary, Fox News personalities are helping spread misinformation about climate change while convincing their viewers that scientists are torn on the issue.
National surveys reveal that many Americans do not believe that scientists are in agreement over this issue. More troubling, the number of Americans who believe that global warming is happening and that it is a result of human activities has declined in recent years: In April 2008, 71 percent of Americans perceived solid evidence for global warming, relative to only 57 percent in October 2009. And while President Obama has pledged that passing legis- lation to curb pollution that contributes to global warming is a priority of his admin- istration, in January 2009, Americans ranked global warming last in a list of twenty policy issues that they felt were important for the president and Congress to address. These surveys also point to stark partisan divides in global warming perceptions, with Democrats far more likely to accept the evidence for the human causes of global warming and to consider environmental protection a policy priority than Republicans.
The views that many Americans have towards climate change are clearly reflected in the cable news arena. Fox News, sadly, has the highest ratings of any other cable news organization, and the study shows that their viewers are for more likely to believe that manmade climate change isn’t happening. More from the study:
Of the three networks, Fox News was simultaneously the least likely to be accepting and the most likely to be dismissive of climate change. Nearly 60 percent of Fox News broadcasts were dismissive of climate change, whereas less than 20 percent were accepting of climate change. On the other hand, more than 70 percent of CNN and MSNBC broadcasts were accepting of climate change. Not a single MSNBC broadcast took a dismissive tone toward climate change and just 7 percent of CNN broadcasts did so.
Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy.
There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.