Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Deserai Anderson Crow

Second Advisor

Maxwell T. Boykoff

Third Advisor

Tom Yulsman

Abstract

By examining U.S. newspaper coverage of climate-change policy, this paper seeks to fill a gap in our understanding of how media covers this issue. With agenda setting and framing theories as its theoretical foundation, this project employs a systematic, quantitative content analysis of how the five largest U.S. newspapers reported the most recent national climate-change policy debate in 2009-2010. Based on what is known about public understanding of and attitudes about climate-change policy, it is hypothesized that media largely downplayed climate-change policy as an issue of national importance. The pilot study conducted for this project also pointed to coverage that would be dominated by economic costs and risks, little reporting on the effectiveness of policy to address climate change, and discourse dominated by political elites, such as members of Congress and President Obama.

This project found that climate-change policy was downplayed as an important issue, only making the front page of newspapers a handful of times over the course of the two-year debate. Newspapers also mostly framed climate policy in terms of economic considerations, with little reporting on the efficacy of policy, possible benefits, the costs of inaction, or the social and moral dimensions of the issue. Extensive literature points to the negative impacts that this type of coverage has on public engagement in this issue. Lastly, by including opinion content in the analysis, this project determined that a more robust and diverse discourse is happening about the full range of costs, benefits and efficacy is happening on the opinion pages of newspapers than is being reported by journalists.

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