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Major Media Fail to Connect Hurricane Dorian to Climate Change

Dorian Shows What an Increasingly Warm Climate Can Bring, But You Wouldn’t Know It From Watching TV News or Picking up a Major Newspaper

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Although Hurricane Dorian exemplifies what climate scientists have warned about, major U.S. media outlets are failing to connect the climate crisis to the strongest Atlantic storm ever to hit land, a Public Citizen analysis shows.

Scientists say that global warming makes hurricanes intensify faster, dump more rain and move more slowly. All these things have happened with Dorian; it has moved over water that is warmer than usual, intensified at an unprecedented rate, dumped 24 inches of rain on parts of the Bahamas and slowed to a crawl, moving at as little as 1 mile per hour.

But between Friday and Monday, climate or global warming was mentioned in just 7.2% of the 167 pieces on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox. The top 49 newspapers by circulation didn’t do much better. Of them, 32 covered Dorian in their print editions, but only eight papers connected Dorian to climate. Of 363 articles about Dorian in those papers’ print editions, just nine (2.5%) mentioned climate change.

“It is mind-boggling that major media outlets can report about a storm of epic proportions that is exactly what climate scientists have warned about yet fail to mention two key words: ‘climate change,” said Allison Fisher, outreach director for Public Citizen’s Energy Program. “We can’t address the looming climate catastrophe if we aren’t talking about it.”

Meanwhile, Dorian is still lingering over the Bahamas, and damage reports are still coming in. The storm is growing and will head next to the East Coast of the U.S. As reporters cover this story, Public Citizen is urging them to include climate change.

Public Citizen’s analysis was a snapshot; it didn’t include online stories, and because of a limitation of the database, it didn’t include the Wall Street Journal. Because Public Citizen looked at top papers by circulation, many significant local dailies were not included, such as The Palm Beach Post and The Post and Courier in South Carolina. The same is true of papers that cover Capitol Hill, like The Hill, Politico and Roll Call. This analysis also does not include radio, local television or online news articles.

The results are in line with media coverage of Hurricanes Florence and Michael last year. A Public Citizen survey found that of the 24,968 total pieces mentioning Hurricanes Florence and Michael in 2018, climate change was mentioned in only 10% of online news pieces, 8% of television news transcripts and 5% of print news articles. This was, however, an improvement from 2017, when the rates were 6% for online media and television and 3% for newspapers.