UCS Report Assesses CNN, Fox, MSNBC Cable Coverage of Climate in 2013

The science and advocacy organization finds MSNBC’s coverage most ‘entirely accurate,’ followed by CNN, and then by Fox News Channel, and says all could take steps to strengthen their climate reporting.

A Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) staff analysis of climate coverage on three major cable networks finds the liberal-leaning MSNBC coverage to be most accurate, CNN’s coverage too tainted by too many debates over what UCS considers “settled science,” and Fox News Channel’s coverage to most frequently be inaccurate.

Those findings in themselves are unlikely to surprise many in the policy community given UCS’s delicate balance between being a science organization and being an advocacy interest with a strong commitment both to the so-called “consensus” science on climate and to effective mitigation and adaptation strategies. But the study provides some findings that may salve or discomfort partisans on all sides of the policy divide.

The 12-page report by UCS communications officer Aaron Huertas, with assistance from program assistant Rachel Kriegsman makes the following points, among others, about each of the three cable news networks’ 2013 coverage of climate change:

  • On CNN: The UCS report says 70 percent of CNN’s climate coverage in segments studied in 2013 were “entirely accurate,” with 30 percent “misleading.” Most of CNN’s “misleading coverage stemmed from debates in which participants disputed established science,” it says. Without those segments, CNN would have scored an 86 percent “entirely accurate” rating, according to the report.
  • On Fox: The UCS report says Fox’s cumulative 28 percent “entirely accurate” score placed it last among the three. Were it not for 53 percent of its “misleading coverage” coming from one program, “The Five,” the network would have merited a 45 percent accuracy rating, it says. Calling Fox’s climate coverage “the most dismissive” of the three networks, it said “Hosts and guests regularly rejected established climate science as a base from which to argue against climate policies.”
  • On MSNBC: The UCS report says the “Lean Forward” MSNBC network hosted no debates about “established science, and no hosts or guests disparaged climate science or scientists.” MSNBC’s “entirely accurate” score was 92 percent, the UCS report says. But it says MSNBC “aired a handful of overstatements in 2013 about the link between climate change and extreme weather,” and did so in some instances “where the evidence does not support such a specific link.” The report also says the network should do more “to hold politicians who reject climate science accountable in more robust ways.”

The UCS report — “Science or Spin? Assessing the Accuracy of Cable News Coverage of Climate Science” — is available online as a pdf.

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