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Climate Change – Inconvenient Truths on Cable and Broadcast News by D.R. Tucker

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You know, there shouldn’t be so much controversy from sane people using Twitter.

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes generated a firestorm—pun fully intended—this week with his observations about the mainstream media’s dereliction of duty when it comes to covering the climate crisis. From the right-wing Washington Free Beacon:

MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes tweeted Tuesday that covering stories about climate change is a “palpable ratings killer” for news shows.

Hayes’s admission came when he shared a thread on Twitter about how climate change is making natural disasters like wildfires worse…

The tweet sparked criticism toward Hayes for not covering the topic more on his own cable news show. Freelance writer Elon Green replied to Haye’s tweet saying, “Sure would be nice if our news network—the only outlets that can force change in this country—would cover it with commensurate urgency. Acting as if there’s nothing to be done is not excusable.”

Hayes responded to the criticism by saying climate change stories are a “palpable ratings killer.”

“[A]lmost without exception. every single time we’ve covered it’s been a palpable ratings killer. so the incentives are not great,” Hayes responded.

Numerous reporters and environmentalists responded to Hayes. Some expressed anger at the MSNBC host for worrying more about the bottom line than the “existential threat to human existence.”

It beggars belief that respondents to Hayes’s tweet would attack him for this observation, when the focus of their anger should be on MSNBC management for not making any sort of effort to have their hosts address the climate crisis in a way that would engage viewers. Most of the respondents seemed to suggest that Hayes himself should push management to focus more on the climate crisis, apparently ignoring MSNBC’s long history of dismissing employees who place a commitment to journalistic principle above a commitment to placating the check-signers; for obvious reasons, Hayes doesn’t wish to become the next Melissa Harris-Perry, Ed Schultz, Cenk Uygur, Keith Olbermann or Phil Donahue.

Only external pressure can get management to change its ways on this issue. For all of the climate marches that have taken place over the past few years, how come climate hawks have never called for a “March on the Media,” demanding that MSNBC, CNN, NBC, ABC and CBS focus on the role human-caused climate change plays in fueling extreme weather, launch investigations into the political machinations of the fossil-fuel industry, and air regular programming dedicated to climate solutions?

Those who run the major cable and broadcast news outlets won’t understand the importance of covering the climate crisis until viewers insist that such coverage be a staple of their programming; as Frederick Douglass famously observed, power concedes nothing without a demand. If viewers don’t pressure the cable and broadcast news executives for more climate coverage, those executives will continue to ignore this existential threat.

Grist’s Zoya Tierstein observes:

It’s actually pretty unusual for a cable news host to go anywhere near the topic of climate change. An analysis from Media Matters for America shows that, of 127 TV broadcast segments on NBC, CBS, and ABC about the recent heat wave, only one mentioned climate change. It’s not like sweltering temperatures caused all those hosts to develop climate amnesia. The failure to link climate change to heat waves and downpours is a trend: Those same networks all but ignored the issue in their 2017 coverage of extreme weather events, another Media Matters report found.

Climate hawks have to make it clear to the C-suite folks that they won’t be ignored. Fox News may be a lost cause, but the rest of the cable and broadcast media can—and must—be pressured to do better from a planetary perspective. Climate change is, quite literally, the story of our lives–and it needs to be the top story every night.

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