Short-changing Climate Change: Presidential Hopefuls and TV Hosts?

Web-based activities are afoot to prompt more attention by leading political and news media figures to climate change.

One effort is a petition drive launched in December, that calls on the presidential candidates to hold a debate on scientific issues in three categories – environment, medicine and health, and science and technology policy. The environment is listed first on the campaign’s website, and climate change is listed first in that group of topics.

Signatories to the Science Debate 2008 petition include Nobel laureates and other leading scientists; academic, government, business, and organization leaders; and journalists, writers and “other thought leaders.” (Editor’s note: One of the several thousand signers is Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, which publishes this website.)

Shawn Lawrence Otto, organizer of Science Debate 2008, appeared on NPR’s Talk of the Nation on Jan. 11.

While that drive focuses on the presidential contenders, another internet-based campaign is targeting a group of national broadcast journalists, calling on them to ask more questions about climate change on their public affairs shows.

LCV Website Graphic
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This petition website, sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters, charges that these “top reporters are ignoring the top issue.” The broadcast journalists it says are doing the ignoring are NBC’s Tim Russert, Bob Schieffer of CBS, George Stephanopolous of ABC, Fox News’ Chris Wallace, and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. The five are pictured chest-deep in water, with a presumably melting iceberg nearby. Another illustration portrays them as animated bobble-head dolls.

To back up the assertion that the TV hosts are “ignoring” climate change, the campaign provides statistics from its analysis of program transcripts and tapes dating to January, 2007. It says four of 2,830 questions posed by the five interviewers in that period mentioned global warming directly. Twenty-five questions were “related” to the topic.

It remains to be seen whether Nobelists’ names and bobble-head caricatures are effective tools for leveraging more high-level discussion of climate change.

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