Let’s Watch 50 Minutes

In a whole year of covering climate change, the TV networks, all of them combined, didn’t even get to 60 minutes.

On their evening and Sunday news programs during 2016, the four major American television networks devoted 50 minutes of their airtime to covering climate change. No, that’s not 50 minutes a week, or each, it’s all of them combined for the whole year. 50 minutes (according to a study by Media Matters). CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox (which is cable, and does not have an evening newscast but is prominent among Sunday news shows), all of them, all year, produced enough content about climate change to fill a single edition of 60 Minutes.

This was in a year that was, worldwide, the hottest year on record and the third year in a row to set that record; a year that set records in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, sea level, shrinkage of glaciers and sea ice in the Arctic, Greenland and Antarctica; that saw wildfires, tornadoes, floods, storms and droughts of unprecedented numbers and severity; and in which 120 nations gathered in Paris to actually start to think about planning to do something about all this. But 50 minutes was all it took to tell the tales. And that was a decline of 66% from the meager amount of time they spent on the subject in 2015.

Personally, I did not watch a minute of any network’s evening news in 2016. The whole notion of turning on the TV set at suppertime to see what happened in the world today seems quaint now, in the age of fake Internet news and wall-to-wall cable hysteria, like when the whole family gathered around the big Crosley radio set to listen to Our Miss Brooks. Still, it’s how about 24 million Americans get their news every night, which is pretty muscular for an old-timer when you consider that it’s about four times the number that watch all three major news channels on cable.

No wonder, then, that climate change ranks low in every survey of concern about world problems, and that therefore goes unmentioned by successful politicians — you know, the ones that get elected to something. Such politicians are lobbied relentlessly by the purveyors of coal- and oil-burning industries, and discover early that to the extent they doubt the universally accepted science on climate change, to the extent that they deny it is happening at all despite a half century of accumulated proof, their fundraising cups runneth over.

The only political antidote to money is an aroused public, and when the politicians, ever wary of public arousal, poll their constituents about how aroused they are by climate change, the answer is a collective yawn. Public concern about, even interest in, the multiple existential threats of climate change has been dropping off sharply since the financial contractions of 2008, both in the United States and around the world. This despite the increasing number and expense of the impacts of climate change — storms, sea-level rise, droughts, wildfires, mass dying of (especially marine) species and the like.

I knew an experienced and cynical (I know, that’s redundant) journalist who insisted that if you saw something — anything — on television, it did not happen. The great majority of us, it seems, has adopted as an inflexible rule the opposite: if you don’t see it on television, it did not happen. And we are not seeing anything — I’m sorry, 12 minutes per year per channel does not qualify as “anything” — about one of the greatest threats to our lives and our civilization that we will ever see.

That TV journalism can continue to pretend that it is functional and valuable and professional; that politicians can pretend to be serving the people and defending their Constitution “from all enemies, foreign and domestic;” and that you and I, free thinking, well-informed citizens of a once magnificent Republic, have let this happen; these are the propositions of a chain of reasoning that leads inexorably to madness, and the death of everything we value.

Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Let’s Watch 50 Minutes

  1. Tom says:

    Wow – well said, Mr. Lewis. This topic is my biggest concern, though, as you point out (and is mirrored throughout my family and former friends) everyone simply dismisses me as an old guy approaching his own demise with these kind of ramblings I tend to try to engage people to at least acknowledge.

    Nope – THE FINAL FOUR [or substitute your favorite selection of tv nonsense]! Now THAT’S important stuff, right there!

    I rarely watch tv any longer (since at least 5 years ago) since “the evening news” decided that what’s coming up on their own station rates as “news.” In fact they rarely cover any local concerns either. The other problem was the lack of follow-up to any story they do. Murder, conflagration, missing kids – nothing past a mention that it ever happened (if you’re lucky enough to get even that).

    On to the topic itself. Fukushima seems to have killed off most of the life in the Pacific Ocean by now – what with dumping 300 tons of highly radioactive water and other contamination into it EVERY DAY (and that’s probably a conservative estimate).

    The fact that we’re well into the 6th great mass extinction of life on the planet is corroborated every day if you know where to look for actual news stories that illustrate the die-offs of so many species, the ridiculous fires (including one I read about today that concerned a brush fire in the pouring rain), pollution, volcanic activity, earthquakes, tornadoes (all of those having spiked) and the fact that we’re rapidly losing the ability to grow crops due to climate change screwing up seasonal, predictable weather. Beside farmers, I don’t think anyone else is paying any attention.

    Thanks again for bringing this up.

  2. Rob Rhodes says:

    Anthropogenic climate change looks like a hoax. It’s not, but it looks just like one. All its the loudest exponents continue to fly and otherwise live high, Klein, Gibbons, Gore and now de Caprio set an example by flying around the world to spread the word: you peons gotta lighten up, but its okay to fly if you think your work is really important or you’re making a film, then you can fly from end to end of the planet because global warming made the northern spring too early to finish a scene for your Academy Award attempt.

    The one person who makes sense in Leo’s film is the Indian woman who told him you Americans really gotta lighten up, but obviously she didn’t mean rich important people like Leo, lets go check out Elon’s electric car factory, we’ll travel by bus to set an example. Not.

    But all you peons gotta give up your crappy job digging coal or tar sands, loose your beater car and wait an hour to get on the bus to go shopping at the mega store and in your spare time maybe drop by the DAPL and help pepper spray a Water Protector to make sure there is still lots of fuel for Naomi, Bill, All and Leo’s jets, ’cause their book and film tours are IMPORTANT.

    This lot make it so easy for the Koch Bros. et al.

  3. marieann says:

    I’m not at all surprised, no one I talk to thinks there is a problem, or they make a joke about global warming in the middle of winter.
    I do know that soon they won’t have any choice in recognizing it, it is upon us. In my 40 years of gardening I’ve never seen anything like the changes in growing seasons, that have happened in the past few years.
    I have changed my tactic a bit now. I often mentioned the weather changes….especially when my town flooded last year from day of rain, when a month’s rain fell in 24 hours.
    I mention about the future and how our children are going to live. As I don’t have any grandchildren I usually mention theirs and how they will have to get used to living in a very diminished world.
    Yes that is cruel….but the way we are treating our planet is more than cruel.
    Though I will say, I find I’m kinder to the younger generations as they will indeed have a horrific future.

  4. Karen Fremerman says:

    I appreciate being able to go to a space like this to be with people who think the same things I do. It gets so surreal out there thinking this stuff but not saying anything (anymore).

  5. Mike Fretchel says:

    I to come to this blog just for sanity and I so appreciate those that post here . Ha I am an Art teacher and when I first started reading about how catastrophic climate change was becoming I ran to our science teachers with loads of questions only to be met with them not really knowing much about it ,or with glib jokes about how Wi would finally have nice cozy warm winters. We truly live in such an oddly ill educated time or is it just a lack of curiosity about a world that lies just a little way from somebody’s I-phone . Anyway all of you have a wonderful day and thanks!

  6. Kate says:

    Thanks for this post. The news blackout has been driving me crazy for a long time. I wonder: is there a directive that shuts down coverage for all three networks?
    Wow, that sounds like I’ve put on the tin hat. But in spite of coverage of big weather events none of them is connecting the dots. I record ABC and CBS and fast-forward through them mainly for their weather event coverage and to see if there’s any mention of climate change. ABC does almost daily “extreme weather” coverage but never a word of context or big-picture info. CBS has started having occasional “climate change diaries” segments but on a very irregular basis.
    A few years ago i would have thought that there’s no coverage because someone at the networks decided it was boring visually or too hard for us audience simps to understand, but that’s certainly not the case anymore.
    So…do you have a theory as to why there is a news blackout and who’s directing it? Because it certainly seems like a deliberate blackout.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      I spent much of my life in broadcast news, and I do not believe it is a deliberate, top-down blackout. The people who decide what goes on the air gave up years ago trying to balance what people want to know against what they need to know. Now the producers just want eyeballs. Just like in the movies, news eyeballs go to violence, conflict, car crashes and sex. Long pieces on science, and what bad things might happen years from now? Nah. Got any good shots of Ivanka’s cleavage?

      • Kate says:

        Gaah…I don’t know what’s more depressing, the thought of a top-down directive or of there not being one due to the reasons cited…

  7. SomeoneInAsia says:

    I once talked to an Australian about climate change in the 1980s. He basically said he wouldn’t care much about it as none of the dire predictions would become reality during his lifetime.

    I asked: Assuming that to be so, what about your children?

    He replied: I don’t intend to have children.

    • Kate says:

      I’ve never understood people who say things like that. Even if you don’t care about other humans, what about the vast, beautiful living world full of beings who don’t deserve to be snuffed out?

      • SomeoneInAsia says:

        Maybe when a person doesn’t care about other humans, he’ll be even less concerned about the biosphere. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending that guy I spoke to.)

        • Kate says:

          I think you’re right. I find that level of solipsism truly dismaying and wonder how widespread it is and how it gets a foothold in a person’s ground of being. Will never know, I guess.