Climate Patterns

Climate Patterns

THE SOURCE: “Climate on Cable: The Nature and Impact of Global Warming Coverage on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC” by Lauren Feldman, Edward W. Maibach, Connie Roser-Renouf, and Anthony Leiserowitz, in The International Journal of Press/Politics, Nov. 2, 2011 (online).

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Among scientists, the idea that global warming is occuring and that humans have contributed to it is an article of faith. There’s much more skepticism among American political and media elites: Only 20 percent of the program hours devoted to climate change that the Fox News Channel aired in 2007 and 2008 reflected that idea. Sixty percent of global warming airtime featured attacks on it, and 20 percent was mixed or neutral, reports a group of researchers from American, George Mason, and Yale Universities. During that same period, more than 70 percent of MSNBC and CNN segments reflected the view of mainstream science, with most of the remaining segments being neutral.

Researchers have long held that media partisanship affects viewers’ opinions, but the study suggests that the relationship is not entirely straightforward. Of about 2,100 Americans the researchers surveyed, Republicans reported opinions on climate change that varied with the cable news channels they watched, but Democrats did not.

The more Fox broadcasts a Republican took in, the more sharply that viewer disagreed that global warming is occurring. (Fox airs far more material about global warming than its competitors—it accounted for nearly 70 percent of the climate change airtime the researchers studied.) Republicans who watched CNN and MSNBC generally accepted that global warming is occurring and represents a threat.

Democrats’ belief that global warming is occurring didn’t change much whether they watched Fox or not, an indication that Democrats are more solidified in their position on climate change than Republicans. Would a change of channels by Republicans or a change at Fox help bridge the partisan divide? The authors don’t say.

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