Giving a Big Story the Cold Shoulder

TV news coverage of climate change is spotty and misleading.

By Don Kraus

Don Kraus

It’s summer — time for barbecues, family vacations, and July 4th fireworks.

Unfortunately, summer has also become a time for wildfires, drought, triple-digit heat waves, catastrophic storms, and other deadly reminders of the impact climate change has on our planet.

This May, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million for the first time in 3 million years. That number offers a stark indicator that current initiatives to slow climate change are failing.

The scientific evidence is mounting. Last year was the hottest year on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency described 2012′s extreme heat as part of a longer-term trend of hotter, drier, and potentially more extreme weather.

The heat was apparent at Georgetown University where President Barack Obama sweated under a hot summer sun as he laid out his next steps on climate change before a cheering crowd of mostly college students saying, “I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”

Obama raised the stakes on the Keystone XL pipeline decision, noting the “net effects of climate impact will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project will go forward.” He identified climate change as the major challenge of the century.

This slow motion disaster is big news, right? Not, unfortunately, in the major media. The three major TV networks — ABC, CBS, and NBC — covered climate change in depth on their nightly news programs a total of 12 times in 2012. So far, in 2013, they have only reported segments on the issue nine times (including coverage of Obama’s climate speech), according to the watchdog group Media Matters.

Even with extreme events like Colorado’s wildfires and Superstorm Sandy, the networks aren’t making the connection between the increased tempo of catastrophic events and global warming. This is literally bad news because nearly 30 percent of Americans stay on top of current events by watching network TV. (A slightly larger share of us get our news from cable TV).

A recent Pew Research Center poll found that only one in three Americans believe “global warming is a ‘very serious problem’.” In 2007, the same poll found that nearly half of Americans considered this to be the case.

U.S. media climate change coverage isn’t just spotty — It’s also misleading.

Unfortunately, some of the minimal network and cable TV news coverage on climate issues that Americans do see just provides a platform for groups and individuals who ignore scientific consensus, and deny either that the climate is changing or that global warming is being brought about by human activity.

In his Georgetown speech, Obama dismissed deniers, arguing ”it is imperative for the United States to couple action at home with leadership internationally. America must help forge a truly global solution to this global challenge.”

The next global climate talks will take place at a summit in Rio de Janeiro next year. Our nation must play a leadership role in these negotiations. To be a credible leader at these meetings, however, U.S. lawmakers and diplomats need the American people’s support.

And how can our nation have a serious conversation on climate when TV news won’t cover the climate crisis?

Don Kraus is the President and CEO of, which has launched the #CoverClimate campaign to focus attention on the need for better climate coverage. is also asking Americans to sign a petition that calls on broadcast networks to pay more attention to this issue.  Distributed via OtherWords.  Photo credit to

Dancing Around the First and Fourth Amendments

The government can keep us safe from terrorism without stifling free speech, invading everyone’s privacy, and seizing our data.

Timothy  KarrWhether you think spying is OK or not depends on your relationship to the information being collected.

If you’re on the gathering end, the invasion of someone else’s privacy doesn’t seem like a big deal. But if you’re the one whose private life is being pried into, this kind of surveillance seems like a very big deal indeed.

This dynamic is at work with the unfolding story about National Security Agency programs that vacuum up the telephone and Internet data of millions of people.

Free Press-Surveillance-The COM Library

To President Barack Obama, such wholesale spying is a necessary evil. “You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy,” he said. Senators Saxby Chambliss, Dianne Feinstein, and Lindsey Graham were among many in Congress who came forward to defend the programs.

Maybe they spoke too soon. Hundreds of thousands ofAmericans are responding in anger and demanding an end to Washington’s widespread surveillance.

This is why protections like the First and Fourth Amendments were enshrined in our Constitution in the first place — to shield people from such abuses of power.

But Americans aren’t being protected right now — because the people signing off on the laws are on the receiving side of the information divide. Many of them have lost touch with the privacy needs of the people they’re sworn to serve. To those in power, the intrusion into our lives is a tiny price to pay for a full-field view of the communications of all Americans.

And the range of data being mined is pretty staggering. According to reports in the Guardian and The Washington Post, the U.S. government is extracting audio, video, photographs, emails, documents, and phone-connection “metadata” that allow authorities to track any person’s movements and contacts over time.

This information includes data about people both abroad and at home who haven’t committed any crimes and have no connections with terrorist groups.

The Obama administration’s supposed authority to spy on all of us stems from its loose interpretation of the controversial USA PATRIOT Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act lets the government obtain a secret court order to collect “tangible things” that could be relevant to an investigation from businesses that hold user records. This vague wording has freed up intelligence officers to go after nearly any piece of information from anyone, including our Internet-search data, website-browsing patterns, telephone-contact lists, and even Facebook “likes.”

Section 215 does an official dance around the Fourth Amendment — which protects Americans from the warrantless search and seizure of property — by dispensing with the government’s burden of establishing probable cause before obtaining a search warrant. And FISA, which was reauthorized in 2012 under the FISA Amendments Act, allows the government to monitor the contents of foreign communications traffic — without showing that any particular individual is actually suspected of criminal conduct.

The resulting dragnet also threatens our First Amendment rights. People will be less likely to express themselves on popular services offered by Facebook, Google, and Yahoo if they know these companies are cooperating with government-surveillance schemes.

A coalition of privacy, Internet freedom, and free speech advocates has launched a nationwide campaign to stop the spying and clarify the laws that are supposed to keep our private lives private. The coalition has also called on Congress to launch a special investigation that would reveal the full extent of the NSA’s spying program.

While keeping Americans safe from terrorism is a noble objective, it can be accomplished without stifling free speech, invading everyone’s privacy, and seizing our data. We shouldn’t have to choose between security and our constitutional rights.

Timothy Karr is the senior director of strategy for Free Press.  Photo Credit to:  The COM Library/Flickr  Distributed via OtherWords (