Climate: The science may be settled, but the press coverage isn’t

A climate activist wearing a mask of US President Donald Trump hands out leaflets at a protest action during the eleventh day of demonstrations by the climate change action group Extinction Rebellion, at Gatwick Airport, in Crawley, south of London on October 17, 2019. Activists from the environmental campaign group Extinction Rebellion have vowed to challenge a blanket protest ban imposed by the London police. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)

Enlarge / A climate activist wearing a mask of US President Donald Trump hands out leaflets at a protest action during the eleventh day of demonstrations by the climate change action group Extinction Rebellion, at Gatwick Airport, in Crawley, south of London on October 17, 2019. Activists from the environmental campaign group Extinction Rebellion have vowed to challenge a blanket protest ban imposed by the London police. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images) (credit: Glyn Kirk | Getty Images)

Lots of the mainstream press has struggled with a desire to maintain what they think is objectivity in the face of scientific evidence. On matters like evolution and climate change, major outlets have instead tried to present balance between two opposing sides. But this was so obviously problematic that John Oliver made fun of it, so we must be doing better now, right?

Maybe not. New research from Brown University’s Rachel Wetts suggests that major newspapers are still more likely to feature the views of business interests and still overrepresent people who don’t seem to accept the reality of climate change.

Bad PR

How do you measure who has the most influence on press coverage? There’s a whole industry devoted to exercising that influence: public relations. Among the other things they do, PR people put together press releases designed to attract attention (as their name implies) from the press. So, Wetts simply obtained about 1,800 press releases from a mix of organizations: businesses and trade groups, the government, and public interest groups.

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