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CNN Primetime, NBC, ABC, and CBS Ignore Record-Breaking Heatwave in South Asia. Find Time to Run 33 Different Segments on Elizabeth II’s Jubilee.
Media survey shows major U.S. news ignored a climate catastrophe affecting around 1.5 billion people, while running 2+ hours of coverage detailing a pageant for King George VI's female progeny.
A survey of two weeks of coverage from April 15-29, when the 2022 heat wave in India and Pakistan was at its most acute and newsworthy, shows that it was ignored entirely by CNN’s primetime news programs: The Lead with Jake Tapper, The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, and Anderson Cooper 360°. The heat wave was also entirely ignored by NBC News (Today, Nightly News with Lester Holt, and Meet the Press), CBS News (Evening News, Sunday Morning News, and CBS Mornings), and ABC News (Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and This Week With George Stephanopoulos).
The subcontinent heat wave, which affected almost 1 in 8 people on the planet, is seen by many climate activists as a watershed moment. In some places in Pakistan, temperatures soared as high as 122 degrees fahrenheit. The heat killed entire crops of wheat in India, leading to export bans. Hundreds of birds suffered from heat stroke. At least 90 people died in both countries, but the actual deaths are probably far higher, due to poor record keeping. Climate change is undeniably the culprit, which means more people will be affected by more future heat waves. A study from the U.K.’s national meteorological service, the Met Office, determined in May that climate change is making intense heat waves like the one that swept India and Pakistan 100 times more severe. Another more conservative study from World Weather Attribution found that climate change made the heat wave 30 times more likely. Arpita Mondal, a climate scientist who contributed to the study, told the press that the heat wave is “a sign of things to come.”
One would think that a catastrophic rise in temperatures that affects nearly 12.5% of the global population would rise to the level of must-cover news, especially because such coverage has real stakes. As columnist Ishaan Tharoor recently noted, the heat waves coincided with the stalling of global action on climate change. This problem is acute in the United States, where the Biden administration’s lack of robust climate policy coincides with its commitment to ramp up oil and gas production. Global public opinion could be an important counter to this political stagnation. But when the consequences of climate inaction are not given proportionate attention, the public is not given the tools it needs to take action.
This lack of heat wave coverage contrasts with American media’s treatment of a pointless celebration for a long-reigning monarch whose primary newsworthiness is that she happens to be the great-great granddaughter of Queen Victoria of the House of Saxe-Coburg.
A survey of the same news programs from the week of May 30 to June 6 shows almost 2.5 hours of coverage of Queen Elizabeth II’s Jubilee, a holiday in the United Kingdom celebrating the 70th anniversary of the coronation of the current monarch of the island nation.
The three CNN primetime shows spent 14 minutes, 45 seconds covering the Jubilee, NBC News spent 52 minutes and 25 seconds, ABC News spent 84 minutes, and CBS News spent 11 minutes and 50 seconds. ABC’s Good Morning America and NBC’s Today Show were the most prolific and oleaginous, averaging over 8 minutes and 7 minutes a day in coverage, respectively. A breakdown of coverage can be viewed here.
The survey of the heat wave coverage was almost twice as long (16 days versus 8 days), to ensure that this analysis errs on the side of a conservative tally. Also in the interest of fairness, both surveys were targeted to the timeframe both stories had been most “newsworthy” and acute, so the heat wave was given a broad time frame of the second half of April, when the story would have been “new” and “urgent.” The Jubilee tally was focused on the week of the Jubilee.
When trying to highlight how little our media cares about pressing, existential issues like climate change, comparing a lack of coverage to something else is always difficult to do while remaining fair, and understanding all societies have a use for levity. Caring about pop culture or sports or reality TV doesn’t necessarily take away from us caring about climate chaos. (If all of these indulgences went away tomorrow, it’s unlikely newsmakers would suddenly shift focus to radical climate solutions.) But sometimes there are glaring climate crises that are objectively newsworthy and urgent, that could put a human face to rising temperatures that are conspicuously ignored. And, every so often a news story comes along that is so manifestly frivolous, low stakes, and empty—even reactionary—that it can be used as an object lesson in American media’s wildly out-of-whack priorities. Put together, comparing these two stories shows the degree to which mainstream media’s editorial priorities do not reflect what’s objectively newsworthy.