CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC are the most widely watched cable news networks in the U.S. To determine how accurately these networks inform viewers about climate change, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) analyzed their coverage in 2013 and found that each network treated climate science very differently.
According to the UCS report, "Science or Spin?," Fox News was the least accurate; 72% of its 2013 climate science-related segments contained misleading statements. CNN was in the middle, with about a third of its segments featuring misleading statements. MSNBC was cited as the most accurate, with only 8% of segments containing misleading statements. (Fox News, however, wins a consolation prize for "most improved," since, in 2012, its climate change coverage was deemed 93% inaccurate.)
In characterizing the coverage of the three networks, the UCS report observed:
Most of CNN's misleading coverage stemmed from segments that featured debates between guests who accepted established climate science and other guests who disputed it. Such debate formats…suggest established climate science is still widely debated among scientists, which it is not. This debate structure also allows opponents of climate policy to convey inaccurate portrayals of the science to viewers….If CNN had not hosted any debates about climate science, its accuracy would have increased by 16 percentage points, to 86 percent.
Fox programs aired 186 segments that touched on climate change, and these segments featured discussions of climate science 27 percent of the time. Fox hosts and guests were more likely than those of other networks to disparage the study of climate science and criticize scientists.
Of MSNBC segments that mentioned climate science, 92 percent were entirely accurate, while 8 percent included misleading portrayals of the science…. The handful of inaccurate statements made by hosts and guests on MSNBC were all inaccurate in the same manner: all overstated the effects of climate change, particularly the link between climate change and specific types of extreme weather, such as tornadoes.