A World War II Scale Effort: The Atlantic Monthly

What level of public attention is required for the “WWII-scale effort” urged by Thomas Friedman and others? To provide a provisional answer to this question, GW students in Professor Svoboda’s UW-20 classes examined ten magazines published during WWII and still in print today. They compared each magazine’s coverage of WWII during 1942 with its coverage of climate change from July 2008 to June 2009 . Up to 12 issues were examined for each period. (See a more detailed overview of the project here.) Today we present an analysis of The Atlantic Monthly, a monthly magazine of politics and culture.

Atlantic Header1

Comparison of Coverage of WWII and Climate Change in
The Atlantic Monthly magazine during 1942 and 2008/2009

By Sophie Godfrey-McKee and Marice Sy

Our study examined six issues of The Atlantic published in 1942 and ten 2008/2009. To calculate the coverage of WW2 in The Atlantic, we counted the total number of feature articles, letters to the editor, and advertisements published each month; then we determined the number that were about WWII. This was more difficult than we expected because in the 1942 issues there was no clear separation between feature articles and smaller articles or opinion pieces. The 1942 issues also placed a much greater emphasis on literature, book reviews and culture than the current issues. This may explain why the World War II coverage in Atlantic is lower than in more politically-focused publications. Overall, we observed that 33% of the 1942 issues of The Atlantic explicitly focused on World War II.

% Coverage of World War II (Jan – June 1942)
Feature Articles 44%
Letters to the Editor 33%
Advertisements 22%
% Coverage of Climate Change in The Atlantic (June 2008 – May 2009)
Feature Articles 17%
Editorials 9.6%
Letters to the Editor 3%
Advertisements 27%







When we examined the 2008/2009 issues of The Atlantic, we saw that the focus of the magazine had changed. While the 1942 issues featured a fiction section containing book excerpts and reviews, current issues of the magazine focused much more on foreign affairs and politics. In the current issues it was also easier to pick out and count editorials.

In the ten issues we examined from July/August 2008 to 2009 (Atlantic combines the issues for January/February and July/August), we found that 17% of the feature articles, 9.6% of the editorials, 3% of the letters to the editors, and 27% of the ads addressed climate change—in some way. Although The Atlantic is hardly a scientific journal, we expected more coverage of climate change because climate change is not just scientific issue. At the same time, we were surprised by the high percentage of “green” ads in 2008/09, which slightly exceeded the percentage of “war” ads in 1942.

Both the Presidential election and the economic crisis were opportunities to rethink our carbon economy and to make progress on passing legislation for climate change. But our results from 2008/2009 show otherwise. Current coverage of climate change is nowhere near as extensive or as thorough as it needs to be for us to achieve the “World War II – scale effort” that Gore and Friedman seek. World War II was the focus of much greater media attention in 1942 than climate change is today. Perhaps we will see increased coverage in the coming years but our data shows that we are not now prepared for such an effort.


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