Study: News Outlets Missing Western Wildfires/Climate Change Links

A progressive media watchdog organization says media news reports are failing to provide a climate context for wildfires that have ravaged a number of western states.


Print and television news outlets are not drawing connections or providing context between a warmer atmosphere and extreme wildfires throughout a number of western states, a media watchdog group says.

The liberal Media Matters for America organization said its analysis shows that only 1.6 percent (4) of 258 TV segments searched mentioned climate change in the period of April 1-June 30, 2012. The group says six percent (8) of the 135 print articles during that period mentioned climate change as a potential factor in the wildfires.

The group searched Nexis and Factiva databases for news articles and TV segments, using the key words “wildfire” or “wild fire” or “forest fire.” It looked at national news outlets: ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, CNN.com, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal. Neither the liberal MSNBC nor the conservative Fox News was studied “because transcripts of their daytime coverage are not available in the Nexis data base.”

Based on their study results, The Associated Press newswire was more likely to mention climate change in its news reports on western wildfires than the other outlets, and The Wall Street Journal was least likely.

In conducting its study, Media Matters pointed to expert scientific data showing a longer fire season and increasing amounts of acreage burned since the 1980s, along with data indicating an increase in bark beetles surviving winters that have grown warmer as a result of a warmer atmosphere. The group asked nine fire experts and scientists about media coverage, and it says seven out of the nine said they favor the media’s providing more climate context with their coverage of the wildfires. The scientists’ responses, some of them excerpted from their full replies,  are included in the organization’s study available at its website.

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