The PBS moderators of last night's Democratic presidential primary debate never uttered the words "climate change." But Senator Bernie Sanders did.
As we have progressed through the primary debate season, this has happened again and again. The media figures hosting the debates keep failing to bring up climate change, so the Democratic candidates for president are taking matters of our planet's future into their own hands.
According to a Media Matters analysis of Democratic debate transcripts, Senator Sanders, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic candidates who are no longer in the race have thus far brought up climate change on their own 17 times combined, proactively addressing climate change in their opening or closing statements, or connecting climate change to a question they were asked on another topic. That's more than twice as often as the moderators of the debates, who have only asked seven questions about climate change to the Democratic candidates so far.
Here are the 17 times that Democratic presidential candidates brought up climate change on their own:
And here are the 7 questions that debate moderators managed to ask the Democratic candidates about climate change, some of which misrepresented the issue or downplayed its importance:
Denise Robbins assisted with the research for this analysis.
The Washington Post's media writer Erik Wemple and Climate Desk's Tim McDonnell observed that debate moderators have thus far failed to adequately address climate change in the presidential debates, and urged them to ask more -- and better -- questions about the issue.
In a February 10 blog post on washingtonpost.com, Wemple stated that debate moderators "have had plenty of data to pose strong questions to candidates regarding climate change," including the Pentagon issuing "a study identifying climate change as a national-security problem," a determination that "could well have informed a number of sizzling questions from the leading lights of broadcast journalism regarding climate change." Instead, Wemple noted, the "little substance" that moderators have provided on climate change through the first twenty presidential debates "show how easily journalists get sidetracked by frivolities in their quest to hold politicians accountable."
Wemple examined several flawed questions from previous debates that "failed to yield an extended discussion of climate change," and suggested that PBS, which is hosting a Democratic presidential debate tonight, "follow the example" of a graduate student from Arizona State University who managed to provoke a through discussion of the topic:
For tips on how to phrase a simple and consequential question, the PBS-ers may want to follow the example of an outsider. During the Oct. 13 CNN Democratic debate, Arizona State University graduate student Anna Bettis of Tempe, Ariz., asked via video, "As a young person, I'm very concerned about climate change and how it will affect my future. As a presidential candidate, what will you do to address climate change?" An extensive discussion of the topic followed.
Easily done, right?
Not right, to judge from other attempts by full-time journalists to poke at this topic.
McDonnell, who is Climate Desk's Associate Producer, similarly criticized debate moderators in a February 11 article for Mother Jones, stating that the debates "so far have tended more toward theater of the absurd than substantive policy issues," and "climate change has barely surfaced." McDonnell argued that "[t]he moderators need to dig much deeper" in order to provide "a clearer view of how the different candidates would (or wouldn't) confront global warming."
In order to "help out the moderators," McDonnell reached out to climate scientists, environmentalists, academics, economic and defense experts, a former Republican congressman and even actor Mark Ruffalo to provide some ideas for questions to ask the candidates. You can see the list of potential questions that McDonnell compiled here.
From Mother Jones:
The moderators need to dig much deeper. The Pentagon has identified climate change as a major national security threat; cities and states are investing in clean energy and protection from extreme weather; and President Barack Obama will soon officially sign the global climate deal reached in Paris.
"It's amazing when you think of the infrastructure and other changes we're gonna see, that people are not asking hard questions about 'What is your plan to address emissions, and prepare for the changes?,'" says Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center.
The Fox News PR machine has capitalized on Megyn Kelly's charade as a debate moderator, parlaying it into high-profile interviews on late night talk shows and morning news shows, and a new book she has in the works promises another round of media attention later this year. These interviews provide the media with an opportunity to question her about the misinformation she promotes on her own show, when she's out of the national spotlight, but few are taking advantage.
Kelly's supposed persona as a breath of fresh air and an unbiased journalist on Fox News -- bolstered by her position moderating the network's presidential debates -- has led to a series of laudatory profiles that have often willfully ignored her troubled past pushing conservative misinformation and bigotry.
Kelly has been called a "take-no-prisoners newswoman" who "isn't afraid to throw hardballs at Republicans" and "the brightest star at Fox News." That pretense was reinforced by the journalists and pundits across the political spectrum who stepped up to defend Kelly after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attacked her, kicking off a feud with the network and then declining to participate in its January 28 presidential debate.
Late night talk shows and morning news shows have not been immune to Kelly's hardball-throwing façade.
On the February 5 edition of ABC's Good Morning America, host George Stephanopoulos gave Kelly a platform to gratuitously boost her credibility as a political journalist and respond to Donald Trump's attacks without asking about any of her controversial remarks.
Kelly has also appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and has an upcoming high-profile scheduled appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert's post-Super Bowl episode, as well as a new book deal. In his interview, Fallon told Kelly that he didn't "really know your work as much until I saw you for the first Republican debate -- you were fantastic in that ... People that don't know you have to be like, 'Oh who is this person? She's phenomenal.'"
Megyn Kelly's so-called "phenomenal" reputation in the media lacks important context, found in the full spectrum of her time at Fox, including her problematic history on subjects including race and gender.
In the first two weeks of 2016, Kelly spent over 1 hour and 22 minutes promoting Michael Bay's myth-filled Benghazi movie "13 Hours" as "the gripping new film that may pose a threat to Hillary Clinton's hopes for the White House." She's used her prime-time Fox show to push falsehoods about Planned Parenthood, most recently asking whether a "political hit job" was at play in the grand jury indictment of two members of the group that released deceptively edited smear videos to attack the organization.
She regularly hosts Tony Perkins, the leader of an anti-LGBT hate group, and has shown a penchant for inflammatory rhetoric on race, ranging from blaming a 14-year-old black teenager who was the victim of a police officer's use of excessive force to calling Black Lives Matter protesters "beyond the bounds of decency."
When positive press praises Kelly's "occasionally, yet highly entertaining, bucking of the conservative party line," they downplay the fact that her show "is made up largely of the kind of stories you'd find on many other Fox News shows." Even the writer of Vanity Fair's glowing cover story, after making those observations, eventually noted that Kelly's "talent for fearmongering may be even more insidious than Trump's own. She, after all, is considered by many to be the reasonable one at Fox."
A new report from researchers at Stanford University found that the United States is "dead last" among other developed countries on poverty and inequality measures, which highlights the need for media outlets to focus more on these issues.
On February 1, the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality published a special edition of Pathways magazine featuring the university's "State of the Union Report" for poverty and inequality in 2016. The report found that among 10 similarly developed nations -- including Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, and the United Kingdom -- the United States had the highest levels of income inequality and wealth inequality, and the worst-rated social safety net. The U.S. placed near the bottom (eighth) in terms of both economic mobility and labor market strength, and finished only fifth in terms of poverty. According to the report's authors, a weak safety net, stagnant economic mobility, and rampant economic inequality are the primary reasons for the United States' poor performance, but a "moderate increase" in public spending on safety net programs would push poverty in the U.S. down to the levels of its peers (emphasis original):
The research shows that, among the well-off countries for which comprehensive evidence is available, the U.S. has the lowest overall ranking, a result that arises in part because the U.S. brings up the rear in safety net performance, income inequality and wealth inequality. When the comparison set is expanded to include other less well-off countries, America still ranks 18th (out of 21 countries), with only Spain, Estonia and Greece scoring worse.
The report also notes some bright spots. It shows, for example, that a relatively moderate increase in U.S. safety net spending would push the poverty rate down to levels observed in other well-off countries. The rate of disposable-income poverty, which is the rate that people actually experience after transfers play out, is especially high not because market incomes are all that low but because the safety net is relatively small.
These findings create greater urgency for American media to adequately report on issues related to poverty and economic inequality. According to a recent Media Matters analysis of cable and broadcast economic news coverage in the second half of 2015, media's focus on economic inequality slipped to its lowest point since late 2013. In the second half of 2015, just 23 percent of qualifying economic coverage contained significant discussions of economic inequality:
The findings also highlight a need for media to counter prevailing myths that public assistance programs are expensive and ineffective. According to the study, the United States could measurably improve its poverty rate compared to the rest of the developed world with "a relatively modest increase" in safety net spending at a time when Republican lawmakers, including Speaker Paul Ryan, have proposed doing the opposite. Calls from conservative lawmakers to gut the social safety net are propped up by right-wing media outlets notorious for shaming those that need assistance, and progressive calls to preserve and expand vital programs are openly attacked by the same right-wing outlets.
With the presidential primary season in full swing, prime-time cable and broadcast evening news coverage of the economy focused on the candidates' policy priorities in the second half of 2015. News coverage of economic inequality fell considerably after hitting an all-time high in the first half of the year.
A Media Matters study of network evening news found that the evening news has failed to report that 1 million low income Americans are at risk of having their food assistance benefits severely restricted following 22 states' reinstatement of work requirements as a condition of eligibility on January 1. While the cuts are aimed at able body adults with no dependents, experts agree these individuals are "very poor" and qualify for very few alternative means of assistance.
From the January 24 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:
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On the sixth anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, PBS remains the gold standard for coverage of campaign finance reform while other broadcast networks show room for improvement, according to a Media Matters review of their evening and Sunday news shows over the past 16 months. While coverage of the subject has increased across the board, with CBS in particular showing a substantial increase, a sizable fraction of the increase is due to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) raising the issue in interviews on Sunday programs, rather than proactive efforts by journalists to cover campaign finance reform.
The hosts of the Sunday morning political shows neglected to bring up reports that Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz failed to properly disclose $1 million in campaign loans from Goldman Sachs and Citibank during his 2012 Senate campaign.
It is long past time for a presidential debate in which the candidates thoroughly address the most pressing science-related topics, says the non-profit group ScienceDebate.org. And now the organization has a new video featuring a group of children who agree that it's critically important for the presidential candidates to debate science.
Science Debate, which is backed by Nobel Laureates and hundreds of other leaders in science, academics, business, government, and media, is running a campaign calling for at least one presidential debate that is exclusively focused on science, health, tech, and environmental issues. The group points to a recent Zogby Analytics poll that Science Debate commissioned with the health research-focused non-profit Research!America, which found that 86 percent of U.S. adults think the presidential candidates "should participate in a debate to discuss key science-based challenges facing the United States."
Thus far, the media figures moderating the presidential debates have rarely asked the candidates about one of the most pressing science-related topics: climate change. In a press release announcing its new video, Science Debate noted that neither CNN nor ABC moderators asked "a single question about climate change" during the Republican and Democratic debates that took place "in the days immediately following the historic Paris climate change summit, where 195 countries reached an agreement to begin shifting the world economy off carbon."
A new Media Matters analysis provides further evidence that presidential debate moderators are short-changing climate change. Our review of the first eight presidential primary debates found that the moderators have thus far asked the candidates more than ten times as many questions about the political horserace and other non-substantive issues as they have asked about climate change.
Reached for comment, Science Debate chair Shawn Otto expressed concern over the Media Matters study's findings, saying that "it's the science issues--from climate change to the Internet, from the war on drugs to a sustainable economy--that are driving most of today's major policy challenges, and the American people deserve answers."
The full statement by Shawn Otto, chair of Science Debate, as provided in an email to Media Matters:
Out of all the questions Media Matters analyzed from the debates so far, just 9 were about climate change. Ninety-four questions, or over ten times as many, were about non-substantive issues. Yet it's the science issues--from climate change to the Internet, from the war on drugs to a sustainable economy--that are driving most of today's major policy challenges, and the American people deserve answers. We have presidential debates dedicated to economics and to foreign policy. It's time we had a presidential debate dedicated to science, health, tech and the environment.
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt dubiously claimed that a newly released email shows former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton broke a "statute [that] prohibits misuse of classified information" because she allegedly "directed [an aide] to alter and send [a document] over a non-secure system." Yet, according to a State Department review, officials "found no indication the document in question was sent to Secretary Clinton using nonsecure fax or email."
From the January 10 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:
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On January 9, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan will host a presidential candidate forum in Columbia, South Carolina focused on poverty. As media outlets prepare to cover the event, will they remember that despite Ryan's gentler language, he has a history of promoting budget and fiscal policies that would harm Americans struggling with poverty?