Polls commissioned by
groups as diverse as Greenpeace and Citizens for a Sound Economy
show that most climate scientists are nowhere near a consensus that
human activity is causing a disastrous warming of the planet. Yet
climate scientists skeptical of global warming were almost
completely left out of the news early this month as the delegates to
an international conference on climate change in Kyoto, Japan agreed
to drastic cuts in the energy use of industrialized countries.
On the three major network
evening news shows (ABCís World News Tonight, CBS Evening News,
and NBC Nightly News), there were 19 stories about the
conference from December 1 to 11. Only three included a soundbite
from a climate scientist unsure of global warming theories. The rest
simply assumed that climate science supports global warming
On the December 8 NBC
Nightly News, for instance, Tom Brokaw told viewers: "At the
global warming talks in Japan today, almost unanimous opinion that
human beings, in fact, do influence the earthís temperature, but
there was agreement on little else." Earlier, on December 1, Brokaw
had given his opinion about the U.S. negotiation position: "The
United States is offering a very conservative plan to deal with what
some experts say is a devastating threat."
Peter Jennings reported, on
the December 10 World News Tonight, that "negotiators from
160 countries struggled to the end for an agreement to control
man-made gases that many scientists say are making the world
dangerously warmer." The night before Jennings had said "most
scientists" warn of dangerous warming.
And on the December 1
CBS Evening News, correspondent Barry Petersen announced that
"environmentalists see catastrophes of biblical proportions, from
droughts to melting ice caps that send sea levels rising."
A rare attempt at balance
was an "In Their Own Words" segment on the December 1 NBC Nightly
News. "The truth is," said Dr. Richard Lindzen, professor of
meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "we know
so little about it, that we donít have a clue whether increasing
carbon dioxide will make the climate more stable or less stable."
But Dr. Lindzenís segment came only after Brokaw had undermined his
credibility, introducing him as someone whose "views are not exactly
in the mainstream."
The absence of scientific
debate on global warming in the media isnít new to Kyoto coverage. A
Free Market Project Special Report found that in the 48 global
warming stories between January 1993 and October 1997, only seven
stories mentioned that many climate scientists are skeptical of
global warming theories; only two went on to mention their
arguments. Only ten of the 85 soundbite sources reporters
interviewed opposed policies aimed at curbing energy use, while 60
supported such policies.
During the Kyoto summit the
networks did, however, allow debate on the economic impact of the
treaty. On December 11, ABCís Jack Smith ran soundbites both from
those who predicted economic pain (Jonathan Adler of the Competitive
Enterprise Institute) and those who said it would be painless. Smith
said "energy costs could rise 20 to 30 percent, itís said, making
U.S. industry uncompetitive and sending millions of jobs overseas."
CBS reporter Scott Pelley
also was balanced on the economics of global warming. "Imagine
cutting by nearly one-third the emissions of vehicles, power plants,
and industry. It would require a new generation of engines, the
virtual end of coal power, and a revolution in efficiency," Pelley
said before going to treaty supporters who argue that "the need for
change will launch new industries."
At NBC, correspondent
Robert Hager included the economic arguments of both sides, but
ended on a doomsaying note: "Treaty makers say the threat to the
climate is such that we have no choice, but itís not clear yet the
American public is ready to pay the bill."
To see a copy of the Free
Market Project Special Report,
Out: Network News and Global Warming, visit the Media Research
Centerís web site. (www.mediaresearch.org)