Extreme Silence: How the U.S. Media Have Failed to Connect Climate Change to Extreme Heat in 2018

Extreme Heat Media Report

Public Citizen analysis shows that U.S. media have failed to connect record-breaking heat to climate change in 2018 — and did even worse during the extreme heat wave from June 27 to July 8, 2018.

Summary

The report, which examined media coverage of extreme heat and climate change from Jan. 1 to July 8, found that among the top 50 U.S. newspapers by circulation, a total of 760 articles mentioned extreme heat, heatwaves, record heat, or record temperatures, but only 134 of these pieces, or 17.6 percent, also mentioned climate change.

Additionally, 10 of the top 50 newspapers have not mentioned climate change at all in the context of extreme heat in 2018, although all of them have published one or more heat-related articles.

The report looked in more detail at media coverage during a 12-day period from June 27 to July 8, when more than 400 daily maximum temperature records were broken in localities in 37 states. It examined newspaper coverage in the 13 states in which 10 or more heat records were set.

The report found a wide variety in the quality of coverage. In general, local newspapers did significantly worse than the top 50 papers, connecting extreme heat to climate change only 11 percent of the time, and just 4 percent of the time during the recent heatwave.

Television networks performed the worst of all outlets. National programming from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News Network, and MSNBC mentioned climate change in 16 heat-related pieces out of 226 total pieces to date in 2018, or only about 7 percent of the time, and connected heat to climate change just once during the recent heatwave. ABC has not discussed the topics together all year, nor has Fox News Network, with arguable the exception of one segment in which the host engages in climate denial in response to a cold snap.

Climate change is already harming Americans, and soon it will pose an existential threat. But most Americans still think of the problem as distant, hurting people long in the future or in faraway places. The media’s failure to cover climate has a big role in that complacency. David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen’s Climate Program