Waterlines: Confluence and Hope through Environmental Communication. The 15th biennial Conference on Communication and Environment (COCE). June 17-21, 2019, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

The Editorial Elite: Examining Ideologies Perpetuated in U.S. Prestige Press Climate Change Editorials

Christopher Garcia's picture
Garcia, Christopher
Category of presentation: 
Scholarly papers

Critical political economic methods are used in this study to examine climate change editorials published by prestige press newspapers in the United States. This paper examines the ideologies perpetuated within 103 global warming-related editorials published by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today between 2014 and 2017. This study’s textual analysis found that each paper’s editorial board had patterns of invoking certain political, economic and environmental tensions to further their arguments or assertions. The diverse topical range displayed by each editorial board’s definition of climate change issues led to few instances of overlap with exceptions being coverage of 2015’s United Nations-sponsored Paris Climate Change Conference and exploring the impact of climate change on Hurricane Harvey’s destruction of Houston. However, each paper’s editorial board displays a preference for pro-market ideology that is explicitly expressed in certain editorial contexts. While critical research has long been conducted on news articles, editorials remain an understudied realm, especially within environmental communication scholarship. Thus, this study expands on our current understanding of ideologies and frames utilized in news content related to global warming topics by applying similar critical political economic methods to editorial content.

Examinations of ideologies perpetuated within each newspaper’s editorial content reveal that despite differences in levels of support for climate change prevention measures and belief in the scientific consensus regarding the existence of anthropogenic climate change, each editorial board promoted pro-capitalist, market-based policy and ideology as solutions to global warming issues. Previous research has noted that editorial content is more likely to cater to elite economic audiences (Henry & Tator, 2002). This reflects the increasing societal influence of neoliberal political policies that have dominated mainstream political discussions in the United States since the 1970s (Hardy, 2014; McChesney, 2004). In this context, each newspaper’s affinity for pro-market ideology and sources sympathetic to capitalism can be understood as a consequence of political economic interests that subtly influence the range of available discourses within mainstream news media. These concerns are heightened by the fact that each newspaper examined had a history of close collaborative efforts between ownership and editorial board staff.

These cooperative relationships become potential conflicts of interest when understood in the context of modern-day newspaper ownership – primarily with regard to the increased investment in newspaper companies by non-news related business entities. Given that all three newspaper companies analyzed in this study have investors directly engaged with the oil and gas industries, climate change coverage in particular can be seen as a potentially risky action that could have a negative impact on corporate profitability. This analysis of 103 climate change-related editorials published in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today revealed that initial illusions of ideological diversity muddied once deeper examinations of each editorial board’s contextual framing practices were conducted. Instead, each paper offered its own version of democratically-sanitized news-related content that cheered or ridiculed government/political figures involved in climate change discourse while ensuring that ideological debates about any related subjects remained within the realm of free-market capitalist reasoning.