Essay: Climate Change Global Warming Media Coverage Trend in a Newspaper Investigate Leaked CRU Emails

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Climate Change Media

The Center for Science and Technology Policy Research has compiled a chart illustrating the coverage that Climate Change has received in the media around the world. The chart, which can be found in Appendix a, highlights that for the most part climate change coverage has increased over the past five years, with a notable spike in late 2009. Coverage of climate change may be tied to specific events, such as natural disasters, or it may simply be a function of its contribution to political dialogue. Major international conferences on climate change can also spark an uptick in media coverage. Not only is the amount of coverage subject to consideration when evaluating the media treatment of the subject, but the nature of the coverage is important to consider as well. Climate change debate is focused around two main loci. The first is the facts surrounding climate change -- its existence, its impacts and the degree to which human activity contributes to climate change. The second locus is the political element of the discussion -- the debates and policy prescriptions regarding the subject. In some coverage -- and unfortunately to many of the planet's media consumers -- the discussion about the facts and the political ramifications have become mixed together as though they form a singular issue. This is not the case, but this phenomenon may be related to the type of media coverage the issue receives.

This study of media coverage concerning climate change therefore focuses on the Wall Street Journal. The Journal is an important study because of two conflicting facts. The first is that the Journal has an excellent reputation and is considered one of the most important and influential papers in the United States and the world. This is juxtaposed with the fact that the Journal is owned by News Corporation, and as with other News Corp publications it tends to reflect the extreme right-wing viewpoints of its owner, Rupert Murdoch. News Corp media outlets tend to be more sensationalistic in general, and rely less on facts for their reporting -- yet this lies in direct conflict with the esteemed reputation of the WSJ. That extreme right wing views tend to conflate climate change facts with climate change politics makes this paper in particular a unique media outlet to study with respect to its coverage of this particular subject.

History of Climate Change Coverage in the WSJ

Climate change was more frequently discussed in the media as global warming in the 1990s. In the period between 1995-1999 inclusive, the Wall Street Journal published 152 articles tagged as "global warming." Most of the articles during this period were news articles, and were generally free from biased views. Issues of global warming were generally treated as news pieces, with opinions of all sides reported with an even voice. The tone of editorials, however, indicated skepticism even at this time. One such editorial by Robert Balling (1995) argued against global warming using anecdotal evidence and straw man arguments, setting an unfortunate tone for WSJ editorials despite the balance of the paper's news coverage. In the mid-1990's the paper's editorial page did allow for rebuttals and healthy debate, often between relative experts in the field. There are also pieces arguing against some of the policy prescriptions for addressing the issue. This is normal for the WSJ during Democratic presidencies but the arguments are rooted in accepted conservative ideology and use a mature tone, often reflecting points-of-view of particular stakeholders such as the Department of Defense and the oil industry.

During the 2000-2005 time period (inclusive), the WSJ saw a dramatic increase in articles on the subject. There were 351 articles tagged for global warming during this period. By 2000, the editorial stance of the Journal reflected conservative views on the issue, with themes including skepticism and negative impacts of legislation on industry. The tone, even of editorials from skeptics that used spurious logical devices such as data cherry-picking, was generally civil. Arguments were presented rationally and at the time the debate was generally valid, even as the scientific community moved towards consensus. Robinson and Robinson (2000) is a good example of relatively sober contribution to the climate change debate from a skeptical point-of-view. As this period progressed, the Kyoto Protocol took center stage in 2001. A flurry of articles from the Journal outlined the consequences -- positive and negative -- of the U.S.'s decision not to sign the Kyoto Protocol. There was a general sense of pessimism in the articles regarding the Protocol, as was consistent with the view of the Bush Administration. Articles covered the climate debate, including the political aspects of that debate (Regalado, 2003). The paper was even publishing editorials from external sources arguing in favor of addressing climate change (Rowe, 2004).

In the middle part of the last decade, media coverage of climate change began to increase steadily and significantly. By this point in time, the Journal's editorial page had already staked out the paper's position on the matter. The paper editorialized at the time that "the case for linking fossil fuels to global warming has, if anything, become even more doubtful" in direct contrast to the scientific evidence. The editors make statements that directly contrast the findings of the scientific community at large (RealClimate, 2005). The cherry-picking of data and the reliance on disproved theories, in combination with the ignorance of basic, accepted facts, points to a position staked out on ideological grounds rather than factual ones.

The paper's archives show a substantial amount of coverage about the issue from 2008 onwards. Climate change conferences are covered frequently, with both articles and editorials. In terms of policy articles, the paper is consistently against free trade-based measures such as the carbon tax or carbon trading. An editorial by Tim Wilson (2008) contains a variety of arguments against some of the measures proposed by international negotiators to address the climate change problem. The author outlines from a free market perspective why the solutions proposed at a particular conference are not workable in the long run. This view is consistent with WSJ's editorial stance and is focused on the policy side of the debate only.

Coverage intensified in the early days of the Obama administration, particularly with respect to policy. The motivation for policy coverage at this time is that early 2009 was a key point in which the administration was forming its energy policies, including those regarding climate change. The paper adopted a sober tone and utilized rational economic arguments that were not conflated with the facts surrounding climate change. The arguments -- such as one specifically against cap and trade (Strassel, 2009) and one in favor of a hard, legal carbon cap rather than a cap-and-trade approach (Krupp, 2009) -- generally align with the economic and free market principles consistent in WSJ editorials (Sensenbrenner, 2009). In general, the coverage from this period is regular, and is consistent in the underlying economic principles used to opine about climate change policy prescriptions. There is little to indicate that undue bias or willful ignorance plays any role in the coverage of climate change at the WSJ during this time.

In the fall of 2009, a shift in climate coverage globally came in the wake of the e-mail scandal, which on factual grounds is a relative non-event, but one that receive an abnormal amount of coverage from media outlets with an interest in discrediting the scientific facts surrounding climate change (Revkin, 2009). The emails highlighted the ideological divide between climate scientists and climate skeptics, and brought the conflation of science and politics to the fore. Just before the linked emails, the WSJ had published a series of articles outlining the impacts of climate change, especially on developing nations, written by climate skeptic Bjorn Lomborg and outlining the case that citizens of developing nations have more immediate concerns than climate change. Lomborg (2009) is allowed to make blanket statements about the ethics of addressing climate change without any semblance of balance (ethical discussions are best conducted in more than one sentence.

With the coming of the controversial emails, the paper's tone shifts to a more shrill voice and an increased conflation of climate science and policy prescription. One article in particular venerates the opinions of those who do not possess genuine knowledge of the subject, frames the argument with biased language ("climate change gang") and begins the trend towards conflating climate science with climate policy. The article explicitly states that the climate skeptic used rigor (he did not) whereas everybody else does not use rigor (again, a falsehood) (Jolis, 2009). That the audience is should accept the dissenting opinion of an uneducated laymen over the massive body of scientific evidence is taken a priori. The intelligent, rational, policy-driven arguments, rooted in accepted economic discourse, were firmly replaced in the WSJ editorial pages with viewpoints based on willful ignorance.

More recent editorials have continued these themes. The opinions of the general public or those of scientists in different fields are given… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Climate Change Global Warming Media Coverage Trend in a Newspaper Investigate Leaked CRU Emails.  (2011, February 3).  Retrieved July 22, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/climate-change-global-warming-media/228913

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"Climate Change Global Warming Media Coverage Trend in a Newspaper Investigate Leaked CRU Emails."  Essaytown.com.  February 3, 2011.  Accessed July 22, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/climate-change-global-warming-media/228913.