Political Identity of a Media Outlet...
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - Political Identity of a Media Outlet...
Does the Political Identity of a Media Outlet affect its
coverage of science?
for Kathleen Hall Jamieson
November 25, 2014
The source of a news report can tell a different story about the same topic. The driving
question this paper will examine is, if the political identity of a media outlet affects its coverage
of science. I will answer the question by arguing that conservative Wall Street Journal did differ
from liberal New York Times and Washington Post and moderate USA Today in its coverage of
IPCC Working Group 2 report due to its questions about environmental scientific conclusions.
To make this case, I will examine The Wall Street Journal print and online versions, The New
York Times print, USA Today print, and Washington Post print. The data will concentrate on
four key themes: prominence, assessing frequency, media frames and a normative analysis (see
charts). The criteria used to judge the themes were: the placement of the article in the paper, the
size of the headline, the visuals used with the story, if the article included quotes from an expert
in the field, how many times the article mentioned risk to humans, if the article referred to the
IPCC report, if the article contradicted science and how many times the articles mentioned
climate change and global warming (see charts).
The method used an article published by The Huffington Post identifying the top ten
newspapers by circulation. From this set, national newspapers that covered the IPCC report
between the dates of March 17-31, 2014 were chosen, resulting in five newspaper articles
selected for the purpose of this analysis: The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) print “Climate Change
Impact Is Wide, U.N. Says,”, the WSJ online “Hagel to Stress Climate Risks With Southeast
Asian Military Officials, Defense Secretary to Speak in Defense Ministers Meeting
Wednesday,” The New York Times (NYT) “Panel’s Warning on Climate Risk: Worst Is Yet to
Come,” USA Today (USA) “Report: Effects of climate change seen everywhere,” and
Washington Post (WP) “U.N. climate panel: Governments, businesses need to take action now
against growing risks.”
The headlines reflect the angle of content, where WSJ leaned to a conservative
perspective, USA was moderate and NYT’s and WP favored a liberal viewpoint. WSJ’s print
headline was small with an exact quote from the IPCC report; its online version focused on
defense secretary Hagel’s meeting with military officials in Asia. The NYT’s headline was large
and warned readers of climate risks. USA’s headline was large and bold, focusing on the global
impact of climate change. The largest was WP which focused on the immediate actions needed.
WSJ print and online headlines restated facts of the IPCC report. NYT’s headline worked to
solidify the visual by warning of the risks. USA’s headline converged with the visual on the
effects of severe weather and WP headline used three lines to heighten the urgency of immediate
action. Verbs used; WSJ-impact, WSJ Online-stress, NYT-warning, USA-effects, WP-action
were consistent with the article frames addressed below. My assumptions about the political
identity of a media outlet were confirmed by liberal NYT’s most dire headline “the worst is yet
to come” and liberal WP headline that focused on government and business intervention.
The national agenda set on March 31st pertained to the enrollment deadline for the
Affordable Care Act according to www.ABCNewsBlog.com. WSJ’s agenda was domestic
politics as they buried the IPCC story on page 14. NYT’s and USA’s articles were on the front
page which suggested its agenda was global warming and WP’s agenda was healthcare. It can
be asserted that the topic of climate change is not in the media until a catalyst make it
newsworthy, supporting the argument that generally, climate change is not a highly relevant
news topic in mass media.
On March 25, 2014, The IPCC announced via press release about their March 25-29,
2014 meeting, with a Summary Report being released on March 31st. Although, this was the
second part of a four part report, the week prior to the press release there was no anticipatory
information in newspapers regarding the IPCC conference. Because of the significance placed on
global warming by scientists, and environmentalists, I expected articles on global warming to be
in the newspapers prior to the release of the report.
Newspapers other than the WP began coverage when the Summary Report was released
on March 31st . WSJ print’s article was on page 14, section A and was available online at 7:12pm.
NYT’s posted on page 1, USA posted on page 1, section A and WP posted on March 30th, page 4,
section A. The report was relevant for liberal NYT and moderate USA as it was posted on their
front page, and not as prominent for WP which placed their story on page 4, and least significant
for WSJ as their story was buried on page 14. Granted, the story was newsworthy enough to
receive coverage in all five newspapers.
The frame used by WSJ print is an example of a debate frame, as they draw attention to
the legitimacy of climate science (see chart 1). They conclude the article, stating “IPCC’s
credibility has come under scrutiny since a 2007 report contained errors about the pace of
melting of Himalayan glaciers.” The WSJ online used a challenge frame to use regulations as a
solution to Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel’s plan to prevent security risks that could materialize
because of climate change as the article mentioned “the consequences of climate change will act
as an accelerator of violent conflicts that could advance terrorist activity.” NYT’s used a
problem/solution frame, where it addressed the greenhouse gasses causing climate change and
great nations can help to find solutions. The reporter quoted Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC Chairman,
John Kerry and Al Gore (see chart 1) to support arguments for climate risks. USA used a
certainty frame to presuppose the legitimacy of the science and the validity of its conclusions, as
it reported “our ability to adapt to climate change is low.” WP used a we/they frame to
emphasize “immediate action is needed by governments and businesses to prevent the risks,” to
warn society of the grave scenario of the IPCC report. The frames used by WSJ print and online
were consistent with conservative ideologies being strong on defense and debating the legitimacy
of science versus the liberal NYT’s ad WP paper’s focus on the social well-being and moderate
USA’s frame that concentrated on the anthropogenic reality of climate change.
The visuals used by the WSJ was consistent with the debate frame as it included a small
photograph of the Empire State Building in preparation for Earth Hour and IPCC’s chairman
Pachauri with his mouth open, showing his lower teeth. The NYT utilized a large picture of
melting sea ice in Greenland. USA used a small picture of the flooded New Jersey shoreline after
Hurricane Sandy and a large picture of Greenpeace protesters. WP used a picture depicting the
earth’s temperature increases from now until 2100 and a small aerial picture of Tokyo. The
contrast between the visuals are, WSJ used a large, unflattering picture of Pachuri to subliminally
convey its position, where NYT, USA and WP used photos consistent with the social
consciousness messages in the articles.
WSJ print’s conservative ideology inferred that IPCC scientists were inaccurate by
reminding readers that a report 7 years ago contained errors, leaving readers with issues of trust
with scientific findings, which is consistent with the debate frame mentioned above (see chart).
The WSJ online featured a debate between John Kerry and John McCain when Kerry called
climate change a weapon of mass destruction but McCain found the statement absurd, also part
of the debate frame, and contends the primary concern should be about the 130,000 people killed
in Syria. The article ended with a Gallup poll survey that concluded 42% of respondents think
media exaggerates the seriousness of climate change (see chart). On the other hand, NYT, USA
and WP ideology gravitated toward ideas that were consistent with the scientific data and used
scientists and government officials to legitimize their stories.
After a thorough analysis of all five newspapers, it can be concluded that liberal and
conservative papers report the news based on its political identity and that science is affected by
the way the news is reported.
times / 100 global
# of times global
0 5 10 15 20
# of times climate
climate change and
WP USA NYT WSJ Online WSJ Print
# of times
# of times
# of times
# of times
WSP Print WSJ Online NYT USA WP