One year later, National Geographic has finally admitted to facilitating “fake news” regarding climate change. The magazine’s most viral video ever, which featured heart-wrenching images of a starving polar bear, perpetuated the narrative that the animal’s imminent death was caused by climate change. However, the climate change aspect of the story is void of any real evidence.
“We had lost control of the narrative,” admitted Cristina Mittermeier, the photographer of the polar bear. Mittermeier explained the climate change deception in a piece titled “Starving-Polar-Bear Photographer Recalls What Went Wrong” for the magazine’s August issue.
Mittermeier conceded that the images of the bony, emaciated polar bear were meant to sound an alarm about climate change, though she complains that people took the image “literally.”
“Photographer Paul Nicklen and I are on a mission to capture images that communicate the urgency of climate change. Documenting its effects on wildlife hasn’t been easy,” she wrote. “With this image, we thought we had found a way to help people imagine what the future of climate change might look like. We were, perhaps, naive. The picture went viral — and people took it literally.”
Perhaps people took the gloom-and-doom climate change narrative “literally” because Nat Geo’s first line of the video was, “This is what climate change looks like.” To boot, the words “climate change” were even emphasized, highlighted in the magazine’s signature yellow.
“In retrospect, National Geographic went too far with the caption,” says Mittermeier. (You think?!)
The “fake news” narrative was viewed by over 2.5 billion sets of eyes, becoming the magazine’s most viral video in their history.