A new analysis prepared by Media Matters for America found that newspapers across six of the most hotly-contested swing states this Presidential election often highlighted arguments used by Big Oil and Big Coal industry groups and omitted discussion of the benefits of public health safeguards and the popularity of clean energy.
With fossil fuel special interests spending more than $150 million on attack and issue advocacy advertisements already this election cycle to drive the narrative on energy, the new Media Matters analysis shows that coverage in Colorado, New Hampshire, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia often focuses exclusively on industry perspectives.
The study reviewed stories related to clean energy, public health safeguards, environmental issues, and energy policy from the beginning of July to mid-August in 11 newspapers across those states. The major findings are detailed below. Data and more analysis are available on the Media Matters website.
“Big polluters are doing and spending anything to keep a stranglehold on our energy future and drown out the very real successes our nation has achieved in building a clean energy economy,” said Cathy Duvall, Sierra Club Director of Public Advocacy and Partnerships. “But, Americans deserve the full story about all the work being done to create new clean energy jobs and keep our families healthy -- and they deserve that coverage in their hometown newspapers.”
In response, Sierra Club has launched the new Energy Truth website to help counter propaganda from big polluters and push back against imbalanced coverage with facts on clean energy and environmental and public health safeguards. The site will be updated to address and respond to common mistruths about these issues over the coming weeks.
1) Benefits Of Public Health Safeguards Often Go Neglected
New public health and environmental safeguards proposed and implemented in the last several years are poised to save tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in health costs annually. For example, the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for Power Plants are expected to prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths and 130,000 cases of aggravated asthma each year, while saving American families up to $90 billion in health costs by curbing the pollution in our air and water.
Still, this study indicates that much of the press coverage of the debate over these safeguards rarely acknowledges their positive impact – if they are mentioned at all - instead focusing on industry arguments. No more than half the stories in any of the six analyzed states referenced the role safeguards play in cleaning our air and water, protecting healthy families, or saving lives – even though these are the primary reasons they were implemented.
This breakdown demonstrates the percentage of articles discussing environmental and public health safeguards that included information on their benefits:
- Colorado: 50% (9 of 18 stories included the benefits of public health safeguards)
- Pennsylvania: 44% (16 of 36 stories included the benefits of public health safeguards)
- Ohio: 41% (13 of 32 stories included the benefits of public health safeguards)
- Nevada: 33% (1 of 3 stories included the benefits of public health safeguards)
- Virginia: 25% (3 of 12 stories included the benefits of public health safeguards)
- New Hampshire: 0% (0 of 2 stories included the benefits of public health safeguards)
2) Public Support for Clean Energy is Rarely Acknowledged in Coverage
Public polling indicates that an overwhelming, bipartisan majority of American voters – 89% - believe increasing the amount of energy the nation gets from wind is a good idea, while 92% think its important to develop more solar energy here at home.
However, this broad public support for clean energy rarely is discussed in the news.
Even in states with relatively high coverage of environmental and energy issues, indicators of public sentiment is often overshadowed by debates between special interests.
In Pennsylvania, readers received no indication that their friends and neighbors support clean energy, even while polling indicates 85% of Pennsylvanians say they support greater expansion of wind energy (source).
The breakdown showing the percentage of stories that included public opinion information on energy policy is below:
- Colorado: 13% (4 of 30 stories included public opinion information)
- New Hampshire: 11% (1 of 9 stories included public opinion information)
- Nevada: 3% (1 of 29 stories included public opinion information)
- Ohio: 2% (2 of 61 stories included public opinion information)
- Pennsylvania: 0% (0 of 64 stories included public opinion information)
- Virginia 0% (0 of 35 stories included public opinion information)
3) The Risks of Dirty Energy are Reported Less than Half the Time
While landmark public safeguards are being introduced to protect American families from toxics in our air and water pumped out by burning fossil fuels, coverage often completely neglects these severe environmental and health risks.
The state by state breakdown is as follows:
- Colorado: 44% (11 of 25 stories reported risks of dirty energy)
- New Hampshire: 20% (1 of 5 stories reported risks of dirty energy)
- Nevada: 15% (4 of 26 stories reported risks of dirty energy)
- Ohio: 45% (21 of 47 stories reported risks of dirty energy)
- Pennsylvania: 44% (26 of 59 stories reported risks of dirty energy)
- Virginia: 38% (8 of 20 stories reported risks of dirty energy)
4) Nevadans are receiving poor coverage of clean energy issues -
In contrast to coverage of the benefits of public health safeguards, the benefits of clean energy – including job creation – are reasonably well accounted for. However, of all the papers examined, there was a marked difference between the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the 10 others. There, less than 30% of articles that mentioned clean energy also mentioned the benefits of clean energy – in spite of a cleanenergy job growth rate of over 5% in the state. In contrast Other states had a much higher percentage of clean energy articles that included information on the benefits of clean energy.
The breakdown of the other newspapers’ inclusion of the benefits of clean energy is below:
- Colorado: 86% (12 of 14 stories on clean energy mentioned its benefits)
- New hampshire: 83% (5 of 6 stories on clean energy mentioned its benefits)
- Nevada: 27% (7 of 26 stories on clean energy mentioned its benefits)
- Pennsylvania: 79% (7 of 9 stories on clean energy mentioned its benefits)
- Ohio: 64% (7 of 11 stories on clean energy mentioned its benefits)
- Virginia: 50% (7 of 14 stories on clean energy mentioned its benefits)
5) Virginia and Nevada newspapers cover energy and regulatory debates in the op-ed pages
The Richmond Times-Dispatch and Norfolk’s Virginian-Pilot have mostly ignored energy policy discussions in their news reporting, relegating coverage of these issues to their opinion pages. In fact, 83% of their 35 items on the subject of energy and environmental safeguards were opinion pieces. Papers in Nevada followed a similar pattern, constraining 79% of their 24 pieces on the subject to the opinion pages.
The proportion of energy and environmental news stories versus opinion pieces are as follows:
- Colorado: 43% were opinion pieces (13 of 30), 57% were straight news pieces
- New Hampshire: 22% were opinion pieces (2 of 9), 78% were straight news pieces
- Virginia: 83% were opinion pieces (29 of 35), 17% were straight news pieces
- Pennsylvania: 44% were opinion pieces (27 of 62), 56% were straight news pieces
- Ohio: 32% were opinion pieces (19 of 60), 68% were straight news pieces
- Nevada: 79% were opinion pieces (19 of 24), 21% were straight news pieces
Full Report Data Available Here