Clamoring for Kyoto

The Networks’ One-Sided Coverage of Global Warming

Executive Summary

For years, liberal environmentalists have insisted that only tough regulations on economic activity can prevent the climate catastrophe of human-induced global warming. So far, these activists’ biggest policy success has been the 1997 Kyoto Protocols, which would have forced the United States to cut industrial emissions to seven percent below 1990 levels, or 30 percent lower than current levels. But if the gloom-and-doom predictions of environmental activists’ are exaggerated or wrong, such severe cutbacks — which would have increased energy prices and drastically reduced economic growth — are not necessary.

This debate has been going on for years, of course, but it moved to the fore this spring with President Bush’s rejection of the Kyoto treaty and its onerous economic regulations. To judge the networks’ reaction, the MRC’s Free Market Project (FMP) reviewed all of the 51 global warming stories that aired on five early evening cable and broadcast news programs — ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN’s Inside Politics, the Fox News Channel’s Special Report with Brit Hume, and NBC Nightly News — from January 20 (Inauguration Day) through April 22 (Earth Day).

Major findings:

  • The view that human-induced global warming is leading to catastrophic climate change received six times as much attention as the views of scientific skeptics who argue that such gloom-and-doom scenarios are either exaggerated or wrong.

  • There were only seven references to the existence of global warming skeptics. Six of those were on the Fox News Channel, while the other was a single reference by a CNN correspondent to a statement by President Bush about "the incomplete state of scientific knowledge."

  • The three broadcast networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, totally excluded the views of global warming skeptics from their coverage.

  • In spite of unanimous opposition to the Kyoto treaty in the U.S. Senate, the networks provided Kyoto supporters with more than twice as much airtime as backers of Bush’s decision to scrap the treaty (69% to 31%).

  • By a nearly two-to-one margin (65% to 35%), the networks also skewed the debate over Bush’s decision not to regulate carbon dioxide emissions in favor of his critics.

  • Free market opponents of new restrictions on industrial activity such as those included in the Kyoto deal were outnumbered 20 to 3 by spokesmen for environmental groups, none of whom were ever labeled as "liberal."

By refusing to show any of the thousands of scientists who are skeptical of environmentalists’ belief that only regulatory schemes such as the Kyoto Protocol could halt the climate damage they say is being caused by industrial burning of fossil fuels, the networks — apart from Fox News — made the President’s actions appear to be short-sighted economic decisions based on unsound science. Furthermore, by showcasing the President’s critics in the aftermath of each decision, these networks created the impression that Bush’s actions were environmental errors, not reasonable policy choices.

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