Green New Deal drives sustained, but shallow, climate coverage

Coverage of climate change is up—by one measure, at least. According to Evlondo Cooper, a senior climate and energy writer at Media Matters for America, the Sunday shows aired seven “substantive segments” on the topic in February. In January, they hadn’t run a single one between them; their overall 2018 record wasn’t much better. The mini-spike, Cooper writes, was a response to the Green New Deal, an ambitious climate platform, proposed by progressive Democrats, championing investment in green jobs and infrastructure across the US. For the past few weeks, the policy has started to shift the conversation—across the mediasphere—from “is climate change real?” to “what should be done about it?”

While the recent uptick in climate coverage has been welcome, it has often been “superficial,” Cooper writes. After Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York congresswoman, and Ed Markey, the senator for Massachusetts, introduced a Green New Deal resolution in Congress early last month, the Sunday shows looked at it through a horse-race lens, dwelling more on its ramifications for the Democratic and Republican parties than its policy content. In right-wing media, meanwhile, the Green New Deal has become a popular foil for old-school climate-change denialism, as well as newer, scorched-earth attacks on socialism in general, and Ocasio-Cortez in particular. At the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, Sebastian Gorka, a commentator for Salem Radio Network, Sinclair, and, until recently, Fox, echoed conservative media and political attacks as he railed against the policy. “They want to take your pick-up truck, they want to rebuild your home, they want to take away your hamburgers,” he said. “This is what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved.”

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Keeping climate change in the conversation, however, is much better than just ignoring it. Writing last October in the wake of a catastrophic UN report on climate change, The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan decried the media’s failure to sustain coverage of the topic, noting, in part, that “it’s not easy to find a compelling, immediate angle to compete with palace intrigue or horse-race politics.” The Green New Deal offers such an angle, at least to the extent that it is part of the horse race. Political optics and intrigue have driven several recent stories adjacent to the platform, including California Senator Dianne Feinstein’s excruciating exchange with schoolchildren, Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s entry into the 2020 presidential race as a single-issue climate candidate, and his Democratic rivals’ race to embrace radical green policies.

Media attention is no guarantee of progress, but silence does tend to guarantee inaction. And the Green New Deal, in particular, has moved the media conversation beyond abstract doom and gloom, replacing the usual terrifying stats with some possible pathways to meaningful reform. Detailed coverage of the platform, mostly from left-wing outlets, has noted that its possibilities go beyond climate change—broadening the conversation to cover economic stimulus, jobs, infrastructure, and migration. While it’s hard to imagine Fox News treating the proposal with that level of nuance, the Green New Deal framing, however it’s spun, raises awareness that climate change is not a discrete issue, whose solutions begin and end with the weather.

The media’s job, now, is to expand, and improve, the climate beat. The nuances of the Green New Deal can be debated; its underpinning science cannot. Here’s hoping the debate will get the sustained airtime it warrants.

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Below, more on climate change and the Green New Deal:

  • Carbon copy: Climate change is set to figure prominently in the 2020 Democratic primaries. Yesterday, Michael Bloomberg announced, in an op-ed posted to his news site, that he won’t be a candidate, but will back a new campaign, Beyond Carbon, to keep focus on the issue.
  • Existential threat: Last week, the Senate confirmed Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency—he’d served in an acting capacity since the resignation of Scott Pruitt last year. On Monday, he gave his first televised interview since his confirmation to Fox. “Is climate change the existential threat?” Wheeler asked himself. “I don’t see it as the existential threat, no.”
  • Slow Bern: “We face, as all people know, an ecological crisis… the greenhouse effect. One would think that the CBSs and the NBCs of the world would be doing primetime specials on their programs,” Bernie Sanders, who is running for the 2020 Democratic nomination, said. He wasn’t speaking this week, but in 1989, on C-SPAN. CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski dug up the clip and shared it yesterday.
  • Survival stories: In 2017, CJR invited contributions from journalists around the country whose coverage of climate change is rooted in state and local concerns. Read dispatches from Wisconsin, Wyoming, Kansas, Texas, Florida, and North Carolina here.


Other notable stories:

  • On Monday night, Dale Kasler, a reporter for The Sacramento Bee, was detained by police while covering a protest against local authorities’ decision not to charge the officers who shot and killed Stephon Clark in his grandmother’s backyard last year. Reporters for the Sacramento Business Journal and the State Hornet, a local student publication, were also reportedly arrested, while Hector Amezcua, a photographer for the Bee, damaged his camera when an officer with a baton shoved him to the ground.
  • For CJR’s print issue, Alexandria Neason reports from a private school in East Hampton, where “the best media literacy program money can buy” teaches students “not just how to consume and produce different types of media but also how to interrogate a narrative—how to pick it apart, flip it around, and inspect it for flaws that its makers worked hard to conceal.” CJR’s Zainab Sultan and Amanda Darrach filmed a video to accompany Neason’s piece. You can watch it at the link above, or here.
  • CBS This Morning’s Gayle King taped an explosive interview with R. Kelly, who was recently charged with aggravated sexual abuse, including of minors. Kelly vigorously denied the charges against him: at one point, staring straight into the camera, he hit his hands together, broke down in tears, and said, “I’m fighting for my fucking life.”
  • The National Association of Black Journalists has placed CNN on a “media monitoring list,” citing the lack of black representation in its executive ranks. Meanwhile, the network came under fire Monday night for hosting a primetime interview with Jerome Corsi, a conspiracy theorist, and Larry Klayman, Corsi’s lawyer, during which Klayman called Barack Obama’s birth certificate “fraudulent.” Rolling Stone’s Andy Kroll has more.
  • The Times’s Brooks Barnes profiles Luminary, a podcast start-up offering an ad-free, subscription-based business model and a roster of exclusive content, including new shows from Guy Raz, Leon Neyfakh, and Adam Davidson. “We want to become synonymous with podcasting in the same way Netflix has become synonymous with streaming,” Matt Sacks, Luminary’s cofounder and CEO, told Barnes.
  • The Atlantic’s Scott Nover grilled legal experts on the case of Nicholas Sandmann, the Covington Catholic High School student who is suing the Post over its reporting of his interaction with a Native American elder in January. The defamation suit, Nover writes, could hinge on whether Sandmann is considered to be a private figure or an “involuntary public” one since video of him had already gone viral on social media.
  • Cynthia McFadden and a small crew from NBC News gained rare access to the Central African Republic, a country riven by sectarian violence where more than a million children are on the brink of starvation. McFadden told People’s Adam Carlson that her team traveled with armed UN peacekeepers, and rode in cars with bulletproof windows.
  • In December, the government of Canada passed legislation requiring online platforms to keep a registry of political and partisan ads, with steep penalties for non-compliance. Earlier this week, Google said it will block all political advertising ahead of national elections later this year, claiming it would be too difficult for it to comply with the new law in time, The Globe and Mail’s Tom Cardoso reports.
  • Also in our print issue, Matthew Shaer profiles John Biewen, a white, male public radio veteran who created podcasts on systemic racism and misogyny.

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Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.