CBS Shamelessly Hypes Climate Change Will Cause More Turbulence for Airplanes

Wednesday's CBS Evening News unsurprisingly spotlighted a recent study that asserted that turbulence will become more common due to climate change during a news brief about the injuries on an international flight that encountered such unsettled air. Anchor Scott Pelley played up how "one British study predicts that this kind of turbulence will increase significantly in the future because of climate change" [MP3 audio available here; video below].

By contrast, Brian Williams used his brief on Wednesday's NBC Nightly News to remind his viewers of the safety recommendation flight attendants regularly cite in order to prevent such injuries:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: In airplane news, a bad ride on a South African Airways flight from Jo'burg to Hong Kong – 20 injuries in a bout of clear air turbulence. Some passengers' heads cracked the overhead compartments – more proof you need to keep your seat belts fastened while seated, as they say.

ABC's World News was the only Big Three newscast that evening to air a full report on the story. Like Williams, correspondent Matt Gutman didn't mention climate change, and highlighted a new piece of technology that might help pilots avoid turbulence:

DAVID MUIR: And now to that scare in the sky – that heart-stopping moment on board a jumbo jet – tonight, we are hearing from the passengers on an international flight – at least 20 of them injured. And look at this: a passenger hitting with such force, putting a hole in the ceiling.

Tonight, how they're describing it, and our correspondent on the most dangerous part of the plane when turbulence strikes – here's ABC's Matt Gutman.

MATT GUTMAN (voice-over): Turbulence, the kind that can rock a plane like this, rocked last night's flight so violently that these are images of the overhead compartments cracked by passengers catapulted into the air. Look closely at this hole punched in by a passenger's head. In all, twenty injured, as the South Africa Airways flight crossed the Equator from Johannesburg en route to Hong Kong – some passengers evacuated in cervical collars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1: Most of them hit their heads on the top of the roof.

GUTMAN: Turbulence can form in even in the calmest conditions – often caused by pockets of air. We flew in a simulator today in Miami.

GUTMAN (on-camera): So, where would you feel the most turbulence in a flight like this?


GUTMAN (voice-over): On average, 23 passengers are hurt a year – most of them not wearing seatbelts.

GUTMAN (on-camera): There is no specific instrument alerting pilots of turbulence ahead.  In fact, most pilots learn about it on their headset from the reporting of other pilots ahead of them.

GUTMAN (voice-over): A new detection system is in the works, using lasers, in hopes of giving pilots up to a 60-second warning that a rough spot is ahead. But not soon enough for the jostled passengers last night. Matt Gutman, ABC News, Miami.

Back in November 2013, Pelley and CBS correspondent John Blackstone hyped a climate change report from the U.N. that underlined that greenhouse gases "have hit their highest level in 800,000 years – mostly because industry is ramping up in the developing world." Blackstone asked a scientist from the University of California, Berkeley if it was "too late" to do anything about global warming.

The full transcript of Scott Pelley's brief from the 16 July 2014 edition of CBS Evening News:

SCOTT PELLEY: Twenty people were hurt overnight – two seriously – when a South African Airways jetliner hit severe turbulence on its way to Hong Kong. One passenger's head put a hole in the overhead bin on the Airbus A-340. The turbulence happened without warning. Many passengers were sleeping.

Turbulence is caused when two air masses move against each other. One British study predicts that this kind of turbulence will increase significantly in the future because of climate change.

— Matthew Balan is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Matthew Balan on Twitter.