On the last Sunday of 2018, Meet the Press, NBC’s hour-long Sunday morning news show, did something unprecedented. It devoted an entire hour to discussing climate change and featured actual policymakers and researchers with nary a denier in sight. Ironically, the episode also inadvertently shined a spotlight on how terrible TV news is at covering climate change in general, and showed that it still has a ways to go.
TV news generally still treats climate change as a “both sides” issue, when in reality there is only one side supported by science. Just last month, Sunday shows—including Meet the Press—featured a host of personalities denying sound science and feasible solutions in the wake of a major federal climate report. That in itself is a feat. In 2017, broadcast networks devoted just 260 minutes to talking about climate change and most of that was driven by Donald Trump’s inane comments, decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement, and ongoing attempt to prop up fossil fuels through deregulation. This year appears to have followed a similar pattern, according to an analysis by University of Colorado researchers.
The reasons for this sad state of affairs are manifold, ranging from Republicans and fossil fuel interests poisoning the well of climate discourse to political reporters’ desire for mythical objectivity.
All that is what made Sunday’s Meet the Press so jarring. In addition to referring to climate change as a crisis, Chuck Todd also said “[w]e’re not going to give time to climate deniers.” NBC declined to comment on if this was a new standing rule or a one off for this episode, but it’s rare to see such a clear callout on TV news regardless. True to form, Todd’s guests included Michael Bloomberg, Governor Jerry Brown, NASA scientist Kate Marvel, outgoing Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo, former Federal Emergency Management Agency head Craig Fugate, and former Undersecretary of Defence Policy Michèle Flournoy.
Their discussion followed grounds that will be largely familiar if you’re a regular Earther reader. The planet is getting hotter, we have increasingly limited time to address it, climate change-fuelled disasters are already taking a toll on people and the economy, the president doesn’t have any clue what he’s talking about and his actions are endangering this and future generations. My Canadian wife regularly shows me clips from the CBC about climate change in an attempt to dunk on American news. Watching Meet the Press, it felt like those CBC clips minus the delightful Canadian accents.
Still, in some ways, the Meet the Press episode was a bit of a bummer.
For one, it unintentionally made it clear how rare and generally bad TV coverage of climate change is. The fact that a major Sunday show discussed climate change seriously is news shows just how low the bar is. In 2018, this should be a weekly occurrence.
This lack of coverage is made more jarring by the fact there’s strong interest in the topic. Groups at Yale and George Mason universities do climate polling, and they found that fewer than half of Americans polled hear about climate change at least once a month in the media despite the fact that two-thirds of respondents reporting that they were interested in the topic.
The show’s guests also left a bit to be desired, reflecting that the Beltway media is still beholden to the status quo. It sure would’ve been nice to hear from an incoming member of Congress like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, or Ayanna Pressley, a seated representative like Ro Khanna, or potential presidential candidate Cory Booker, all of whom are champions of the Green New Deal, a set of policy goals in line with the best available science. The only mention of the deal came in the opening segment. Instead of expanding on what could be the future of U.S. climate policy, Todd had on Curbelo who lost his election and whose bipartisan climate caucus was basically wiped out in the midterm election, and technocratically-minded potential presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg.
Unfortunately climate change isn’t going away, so Todd and his fellow political reporters will have ample opportunities for continued course correction in 2019.