CNN’s Jake Tapper and Fox News’ Chris Wallace pushed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s baseless accusation that stolen emails released by WikiLeaks shows former secretary of state Hillary Clinton engaged in “pay to play” with the Moroccan government.
The two January 2015 emails in question show a discussion between aides Robby Mook and Huma Abedin about whether Clinton would participate in an upcoming Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) summit in Morocco. Abedin expressed concern about Clinton cancelling her appearance, saying that Moroccan king Mohammed VI pledged $12 million to the Clinton Foundation’s charitable efforts and was expecting Clinton’s participation.
On October 21, Trump said during a rally in North Carolina, “Now from WikiLeaks, we just learned she tried to get 12 million (dollars) from the king of Morocco for an appearance. More pay for play." On October 23, Tapper and Wallace questioned Mook, who is now Clinton's campaign manager, about the emails released by WikiLeaks. On State of the Union, Tapper, although noting that Clinton didn’t go to Morocco, insisted that “this is a real issue ... pay to play.” And on Fox News Sunday, Wallace asked, “why wasn’t that classic pay to play?”
The suggestion that Clinton’s activities with regard to Morocco are a corrupt pay to play are dubious for three reasons.
First, there is no evidence that Clinton offered Morocco’s leadership any government action. In fact, she was in no position to do so, as the summit was scheduled for more than two years after she stepped down as secretary of state.
Second, in spite of Abedin’s concerns, Clinton did not actually attend the summit and it went forward anyway.
Third, according to ABC News, “Clinton Foundation records do not show any direct pledge of funding from the king or government of Morocco to the charity.” ABC suggests that this is because the $12 million pledge was actually a commitment to CGI, which are “agreements only to aid the program's international projects, not to directly fund the Clinton Foundation itself.”
CNN’s own report of Trump’s remarks shows why his accusation is baseless (emphasis added):
The accusation is just the latest Trump has leveled against Clinton as he's argued she engaged in "pay for play" schemes involving the Clinton Foundation during her time as secretary of state. But the Clinton Global Initiative summit in Morocco that Clinton was set to attend in exchange for the $12 million pledge took place in May 2015 and was discussed in emails by Clinton's top aides in November 2014, after her tenure as secretary of state ended.
Clinton did not end up attending the summit.
Because Clinton did not attend the summit, was not in the employ of the government at the time, and the funds would not have gone to the Clinton Foundation directly, there is no “pay for play” here, despite claims by Trump and some in the media. Instead, this is just the latest in a string of reporting failures regarding Clinton Foundation donations.
Fox News’ Chris Wallace, moderator of the last presidential debate, failed to generate a meaningful discussion on immigration, meaning audiences “learn[ed] nothing new,” according to Univision. Instead, the moderator provided another platform for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant bashing while failing to dig deeper into the serious consequences immigration policies have on millions of people in the United States.
Wallace initiated the discussion around immigration by stating the positions that both of the candidates have made known to the public throughout the campaign and then asking each, “Why are you right and your opponent wrong?”
During Univision’s post-debate analysis, commentators took issue with the immigration segment because audiences “learn[ed] nothing new” even though many had been clamoring for a meaningful discussion of the topic leading up to the final debate. As Univision legal contributor Ezequiel Hernandez pointed out, many questions on specifics still linger: “The executive action was not discussed, judges were talked about in the previous topic, but the thousands of children who get to the border and are left waiting and who are deported until something is done were not discussed.”
Wallace stuck to his promise of being nothing more than a timekeeper and failed to dig deeper on the topic, instead framing his next query around an illegally obtained excerpt of a speech Hillary Clinton gave to a Brazilian bank where she allegedly said, “My dream is a hemispheric common market with open trade and open borders.” Wallace asked Clinton, “Is that your dream? Open borders?” while ignoring both the context of Clinton’s words and Trump’s 2013 CNN op-ed in which he said, “We still have to leave borders behind and go for global unity when it comes to financial stability.” Trump had already attempted to capitalize on Clinton’s phrasing on the campaign trail, which prompted PolitiFact to analyze the claim and rate it “mostly false,” calling her immigration plan "a far cry from Trump's characterization." PolitiFact also explained that “the context of that sentence related to green energy -- and wasn’t about people immigrating to the United States.” As NBC News’ Suzanna Gamboa wrote,“The candidates seemed on the verge of a more insightful discussion” until Wallace directed the debate toward the “open borders” comment, which is when “things began to crumble.”
As predicted, Trump took advantage of Wallace’s inaction and vague immigration questioning, using it as a platform to once again smear immigrants as violent criminals, conjuring up a phrase offensive to Latino immigrants in particular: “bad hombres.”
Meanwhile, the pressing, life-altering questions many Latino immigrants have -- like the question 6-year-old Sophie Cruz suggested on OpenDebateCoalition.com, “What happens to me if you deport my parents?” -- remain unanswered.
Fox News anchor Chris Wallace has received widespread praise for his performance as moderator of the final presidential debate, despite repeatedly injecting right-wing framing and misinformation into his questions. The celebration of Wallace’s performance highlights the extent to which conservative spin has become normalized in national politics.
Following the October 19 debate, commentators across the political spectrum praised Wallace for his performance as moderator. Wallace was lauded for his “blunt questions,” “evenhanded approach,” and “sterling performance,” and he was even described as the “one clearcut winner” of the debate.
Some of this praise is legitimate -- Wallace repeatedly grilled Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on questions of policy and at times forced him to stay on topic in his answers. And the most newsworthy moment of the debate -- Trump's refusal to say whether he’d accept the results of the elections -- came in response to Wallace’s pointed, repeated questioning near the end of the event.
But Wallace also exposed his audience to a large dose of right-wing misinformation:
Wallace’s rave reviews from Republicans and Democrats alike highlight the extent to which right-wing dishonesty -- made ubiquitous by Fox News and conservative media -- has become normal in national politics. Wallace’s network has spent years repeating and mainstreaming these types of lies -- the stimulus failed, Democrats want open borders, et cetera. Viewers have heard them so often that it can feel passé to go through the motions of debunking them over and over. Journalists become so numb to the talking points that they can hear them being repeated by a debate moderator during a presidential debate without batting an eye.
That’s how political propaganda works -- not by outright convincing people, but by treating a lie as so routine and unremarkable that people slowly stop being suspicious of it.
Journalists’ willingness to accept and overlook Wallace’s bullshit is even greater when it’s being compared to the absurdity of Donald Trump. When Trump is on stage claiming his opponent should be disqualified from running for office or suggesting he might not accept the results of the election, it feels nitpicky to worry about the misleading nature of many of Wallace’s questions. Trump’s unhinged, out-of-control campaign style makes everything around him seem normal and tame by comparison. We’re willing to forgive Wallace’s occasional dishonesty because we’re so grateful that he pointed out Trump is literally threatening a core democratic principle.
But becoming numb to Wallace’s casual, subtle dishonesty is incredibly dangerous. Fox News’ modus operandi is making right-wing misinformation so pervasive and constant that it becomes unnoticeable -- it becomes part of the noise we just take for granted in American politics. What makes Wallace such an effective purveyor of dishonesty is that he’s good at playing the part of the reasonable, “even-handed” journalist, even when what he’s saying is wrong.
It’s easy to challenge bullshit when it’s being delivered wildly by Trump on a debate stage. It’s much harder to challenge it when it’s being subtly baked into questions from a moderator whose employer has spent years trying to blur the lines between serious journalism and right-wing fantasy.
Over the course of three general election presidential debates, moderators failed to ask candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump a single question on LGBT equality. In the third and final debate, both candidates independently brought up LGBT people, though in drastically different terms, highlighting the need for a question to specifically parse policy positions on LGBT equality.
The third presidential debate concluded without Fox News host Chris Wallace asking a question pertaining to LGBT equality. Prior to the debate, the National Center for Transgender Equality had urged Wallace to address the “critical issue” of transgender equality. This year saw an unprecedented number of anti-LGBT bills introduced in state legislatures, high-profile lawsuits from several states against federal policy guidance over transgender student equality, and the adoption of North Carolina's widely condemned HB 2, which, among other things, requires transgender people to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificates.
While Wallace failed to ask the candidates about their differing positions on LGBT equality, both Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump brought up LGBT people in the course of the debate. In answering a question on Supreme Court nominees, Clinton said that “we need a Supreme Court that will stand up … on behalf of the rights of the LGBT community” and that it is “important that we not reverse marriage equality.” In the second debate, Clinton had similarly said, “I want a Supreme Court that will stick with marriage equality” and pointed out that Trump has suggested that he would nominate justices who would “reverse marriage equality.”
Trump didn’t bring up LGBT equality in the discussion of domestic policy. Instead, he mentioned LGBT people in an attack on the Clinton Foundation, calling the organization a “criminal enterprise” because it accepts donations from countries with anti-LGBT policies, saying “these are people that push gays off business -- off buildings.” This talking point is ripped straight from right-wing media pundits like Fox’s Sean Hannity, who have attempted to attack the Clinton Foundation by scandalizing donations from countries that have a history of discriminating against women and LGBT people. This line of attack ignores Trump’s business dealings in the exact same countries that donate to the Clinton Foundation.
Given that media have previously ignored Trump’s anti-LGBT record to falsely tout him as LGBT-friendly, the debates would have been the perfect chance for journalists to correct the mischaracterization of Trump as a “champion” of LGBT equality.
Methodology: Media Matters searched transcripts of the three presidential debates in The Washington Post for the terms “LGBT,” "gay," “lesbian,” “bisexual,” "transgender," "sexual orientation," "gender identity,” and “marriage.”
Presidential debate season is officially over, and critical policy questions that directly impact millions of Americans remain unasked just 19 days before the election.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump met last night in Las Vegas, Nevada for the final presidential debate, which was likely the last chance for the candidates to discuss specific policy issues face-to-face before November 8. Just as in the previous two presidential debates this year, moderator Chris Wallace chose to focus questions on a handful of familiar topics. Even within the context of six pre-announced debate topics, Wallace could have asked questions on major policy issues that deserve thoughtful and substantive prime-time discussion from the presidential candidates, like affordable health care, climate change, or tax plans.
But that didn’t happen. When debate discussions did manage to turn to policy specifics on critical topics like reproductive rights or gun violence prevention, Wallace didn’t ask necessary follow-up questions or offer clarifications on the facts. (Prior to the debate, Wallace announced his intention to be a debate timekeeper rather than fact-checker.)
All in all, last night’s debate largely covered the same ground as the previous two debates, both in topics discussed and in tone. If any of the three debates had focused more aggressively on what’s truly at stake -- what voters have said they wanted asked, what people actually believe is most important for their own families and communities -- the questions in this debate cycle would have looked very different. And the answers could speak for themselves.
Let’s explore just how hard the moderators dropped the ball.
This year, the United States began the process of resettling its first climate refugees. A bipartisan group of top military experts warned that climate change presents a “strategically-significant risk to U.S. national security and international security.” While Clinton wants to build on President Obama’s climate change accomplishments, Trump wants to “cancel” the historic Paris climate agreement, “rescind” the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan, and dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency -- and he’s even called global warming a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.
Several tragic mass shootings -- including the single deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, at the LGBT nightclub Pulse in Orlando, FL, in June -- have shaken the nation since the beginning of the election season. Gun deaths in the United States, both in instances of mass shootings and in more common day-to-day violence, vastly outnumber gun deaths in other Western democracies -- so much so that the American Medical Association has declared gun violence a public health crisis. And Americans are overwhelmingly ready for lawmakers to take action. Seventy-two percent of voters say gun policy is “very important” in determining their vote this year, and an astonishing 90 percent of voters -- representing both Democrats and Republicans -- think that strengthening background check requirements for firearm purchases is a good place to start, as does Clinton. Trump recently told the National Rifle Association -- which has endorsed him -- that he opposes expanding background checks.
Moderators failed to ask a single question about specific policies for gun violence prevention in the first two presidential debates, and they failed to ask a question about background check policies specifically in any debate. In the final debate, Wallace asked about gun policies in the context of the Supreme Court’s 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision about the scope of the Second Amendment, but he failed to follow up when Trump skirted questions about the case and about his specific positions on several gun policies like his opposition to an assault weapons ban and his oft-repeated false claim that "gun-free" zones are responsible for public mass shootings. The entire exchange lasted just under five minutes.
Though seven in 10 Americans support legal abortion and one in three American women report having had an abortion procedure, states have enacted 288 anti-choice laws since 2010. These laws are creating a crisis by preventing women from low-income families -- many already parents who are struggling to keep families afloat -- from receiving the health care services they need. Some evidence even suggests greater numbers of women are contemplating dangerous self-induced abortions due to a lack of access to care. Trump has espoused support for these types of restrictive laws, and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), wants to “send Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history.”
But moderators did not ask a question about the candidates’ stances on reproductive rights until the final debate -- when Chris Wallace asked about Roe v. Wade. Again, Trump repeatedly lied about abortion policy, and the misinformation was left hanging as Wallace pivoted to a new topic after about five minutes of discussion.
How about tax policies? Tax rates are a critical issue that directly affect all Americans, and the candidates’ respective tax policy proposals could not differ more. Clinton’s plan would benefit low- and middle-income families most and hike tax rates only for the wealthiest earners and for corporations. Trump’s plan has been called “a multitrillion-dollar gift to the rich” that “screws the middle class,” and has been panned even by conservative economists and The Wall Street Journal. One analysis concluded that Clinton’s plan “trims deficits,” while Trump’s plan could add $6.2 trillion to the national debt. These numbers directly impact the short-term and long-term financial health of families and communities, and 84 percent of voters say the economy is “very important” in deciding their vote in 2016.
Substantive questions about the candidates’ specific tax plans were missing from the debates, though Trump still managed to lie about his tax proposals on several occasions. When the candidates mentioned their tax plans briefly in the final debate when asked about the economy, Wallace again lived up to his promise not to fact-check.
A record number of anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in state legislatures this year, and LGBT students face significantly more violence than their peers, but the debates did not include a single question about policy positions related to LGBT equality.
About 70 percent of today’s college graduates leave school with student loans, and more than 43 million Americans currently have student debt. This economic squeeze is changing how Americans plan their families, buy homes, and spend their money. Clinton has responded by making college affordability a signature issue of her campaign, while Trump’s newly described plan could “explode the student debt crisis.” Neither candidate was asked to address this issue either.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world -- we account for 5 percent of the world’s population but a whopping 25 percent of the world’s prison population. Inmate organizers recently launched what could be the nation’s largest prison strike to draw attention to deplorable prison conditions. The majority of Americans want to see changes to a federal prison system they believe is “too large, too expensive, and too often incarcerating the wrong people.” Moderators didn’t ask about criminal justice reform policies at all.
The presidential debates instead largely focused on statements made on the campaign trail, whichever offensive comments Trump had made most recently, and -- again, always -- Hillary Clinton’s email use as secretary of state. Viewers might now know a lot about these topics -- or at least what each candidate has to say about them -- while still having very little information on the candidates’ starkly contrasting policy positions on issues with direct and immediate consequences to citizens’ daily lives.
Americans relied on moderators to raise the questions they think about every day, to help them understand how the next president can help ensure that their families are safe, secure, and set up to thrive. It’s a shame the debates did not deliver.
Moderator Falsely Claims Social Security And Medicare Are “Going To Run Out Of Money” Without Major Benefit Cuts
Fox News host and 2016 presidential debate moderator Chris Wallace used the last question of the presidential debate to push both the Democratic and Republican nominees into accepting a past GOP proposal -- harmful cuts to vital entitlement programs as part of a national debt-reducing “grand bargain.”
Wallace opened his question by falsely claiming that “the biggest driver of our debt is entitlements” like Social Security and Medicare while falsely equating the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) analyses of Donald Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s tax and economic policy proposals. Wallace claimed that the CRFB “has looked at both” the Trump and Clinton tax plans and concluded “neither of [them] has a serious plan” to address “the fact” that Medicare and Social Security are going to run out of money in the next two decades:
CHRIS WALLACE: The one last area that I want to get into with you in this debate is the fact that the biggest driver of our debt is entitlements, which is 60 percent of all federal spending. Now the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has looked at both of your plans and they say neither of you has a serious plan that is going to solve the fact that Medicare is going to run out of money in the 2020s, Social Security is going to run out of money in the 2030s, and at that time recipients are going to take huge cuts in their benefits. So, in effect, the final question I want to ask you in this regard is, and let me start with you, Mr. Trump. Would President Trump make a deal to save Medicare and Social Security that included both tax increases and benefit cuts -- in effect, in effect a grand bargain on entitlements?
WALLACE: Secretary Clinton, same question, because at this point Social Security and Medicare are going to run out -- the trust funds are going to run out of money. Will you as president entertain -- will you consider a grand bargain, a deal, that includes both tax increases and benefit cuts to try to save both programs?
Wallace’s question ignores three important points.
First, the CRFB did not score the Clinton and Trump tax plans as roughly equivalent in terms of their impact on the debt and deficit. According to a September 22 analysis from the organization, Trump’s economic agenda will create $5.3 trillion in new debt accumulation over the next decade -- more than 25 times more new debt that Clinton’s more balanced plan. University of Michigan economist and New York Times columnist Justin Wolfers tweeted a chart from CRFB showing how Trump’s plan would “explode” the national debt beyond current projections, whereas Clinton’s proposal leaves it “basically unchanged”:
Here's how Clinton's plans alter the debt trajectory. (It's hard to see; it's basically unchanged). And you'll see Trump's plan explode it. pic.twitter.com/UCayFwDupM
— Justin Wolfers (@JustinWolfers) October 20, 2016
Second, as economist Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities wrote on Twitter, Medicare and Social Security “DO NOT run out of money!!” because they are paid for by secured trust funds and specific permanent tax provisions. Bernstein also noted that the Affordable Care Act, which Trump vowed to repeal during the debate, has actually extended Medicare “solvency by 11 years.” Economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research added that, because the program can only spend money from a protected trust fund, “Social Security can’t legally drive the debt.”
Third, Wallace’s supposed solution to avoid benefit cuts for Social Security and Medicare recipients in the 2030s is to start implementing those cuts today. As New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has noted many times, “these proposals would be really bad public policy” and would harshly impact low-income Americans who rely on the programs for retirement security. The only reason Social Security faces a long-term revenue shortfall is because the payroll tax that funds it is only applied to the first $118,500 of individual earnings. If the payroll tax cap was lifted to include more taxable earnings, the program could bring in more revenue and be funded through the end of the century. As Krugman notes, “while most Americans love Social Security, the wealthy don’t. Two years ago a pioneering study of the policy preferences of the very wealthy found many contrasts with the views of the general public; as you might expect, the rich are politically different from you and me. But nowhere are they as different as they are on the matter of Social Security.”
Wallace’s decision to relitigate the failed “grand bargain” from 2011 wasn’t the only example of the Fox News host using the debate as a forum to push a conservative policy agenda. However, his specific fearmongering and misleading framing of the debt and entitlements does vindicate economic policy experts’ many concerns about him moderating the debate in the first place.
Wallace Broke The Debate Silence On Abortion, But Failed To Fact-Check Trump’s Pivot To A Misleading Right-Wing Media Myth
During the final presidential debate, moderator Chris Wallace asked Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton a substantive question about her stance on the legality of abortion restrictions, yet he allowed Republican nominee Donald Trump to avoid a similar question and instead repeat the baseless right-wing media myth that Clinton supports so-called “partial-birth” abortion.
Throughout this election cycle, reproductive rights advocates have been pushing for debate moderators to #AskAboutAbortion. Although Wallace asked Clinton a substantive question about her previous vote against a piece of anti-choice legislation that did not meet the requirements of Roe v .Wade, he failed to fact-check Trump’s misleading pivot to “partial-birth” abortions.
In response to Clinton’s comments about the importance of ensuring any restriction on abortion includes constitutionally-mandated exceptions for the health and safety of the mother, Trump falsely claimed that Clinton believes “you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother.” Trump continued that Clinton supports letting abortion providers “take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month, on the final day.”
Trump’s comments reflect the misleading right-wing media claim that the Democratic position on abortion access includes support for so-called “partial-birth” abortions -- often invoking the term as a description of an abortion that takes place in the final months or “moments” of a pregnancy. In reality, “partial-birth” abortion is a non-medical and fabricated term coined by anti-choice groups to vilify and stigmatize individuals who elect to have an abortion.
Not only is “partial-birth” abortion a right-wing media creation, the allegation that Clinton supports such a practice is also inaccurate. On October 9, PolitiFact Texas rated as false a statement by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that Clinton “supports unlimited abortion on demand up until the moment of birth, including partial-birth abortion.” PolitiFact noted that “abortions in the weeks leading up to birth” are an extreme rarity and that “Clinton has long said that she’d support a late-term limit on abortion--provided it has exceptions” -- a position she reiterated during the October 19 debate.
In her remarks, Clinton not only emphasized the importance of abortion access, but also noted that Planned Parenthood is an essential health care provider that she would not allow anti-choice lawmakers to defund. For his part, Trump promised to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade, eliminating a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.
Fox News host and presidential debate moderator Chris Wallace falsely blamed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) -- commonly referred to as “the stimulus” -- for creating a historically sluggish economic recovery, a frequent charge from right-wing media outlets that bears no resemblance to reality.
During a line of questioning designed to undermine Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Wallace alleged that Clinton’s economic agenda closely resembles “the Obama stimulus plan in 2009,” which he falsely claimed was responsible for “the slowest GDP [gross domestic product] growth since 1949”:
CHRIS WALLACE: I want to pursue your plan, because in many ways it is similar to the Obama stimulus plan in 2009, which has led to the slowest GDP growth since 1949.
DONALD TRUMP: Correct.
CHRIS WALLACE. Thank you, sir. You told me, in July, when we spoke that the problem is that President Obama didn't get to do enough in what he was trying to do with the stimulus. So is your plan basically more, even more of the Obama stimulus?
Right-wing media outlets, including Fox News, have long charged that the 2009 stimulus package was costly and ineffective, and they regularly promote the fantasy that the roughly $800 billion rescue package actually hurt the American economy. Fox News has portrayed the very concept of stimulating the economy through targeted government investments as a “distraction,” Fox host Bill O’Reilly has falsely claimed that food stamps have no economic value, and Fox anchor Megyn Kelly has been derisively referring to the rescue package as “the so-called stimulus” for years.
Contrary to Wallace’s misleading talking point, economists like Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman generally believe that the stimulus package was too small and too focused on tax cuts instead of targeted spending. (Tax cuts actually don’t stimulate the economy very effectively.) In a July 2014 New York Times column, economist Justin Wolfers noted that 36 of 37 economists surveyed by the University of Chicago’s Initiative on Global Markets agreed that the stimulus was directly responsible for lowering the unemployment rate, and 25 agreed that the economic benefits of the law exceeded its costs.
Wallace’s willingness to use the debate stage as a forum to promote right-wing misinformation was one of the primary reasons that Media Matters questioned the decision to include him as a moderator.
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New York Times columnist David Leonhardt called on Fox News host Chris Wallace to base “his questions on budget reality” during the “debt and entitlements” portion of the third and final presidential debate that he will moderate tonight -- the first general election debate ever moderated by a Fox personality. Given Wallace’s track record of parroting right-wing media budget hysteria from his anchor desk at Fox News, it is possible that the moderator will fall short of what Leonhardt characterized as his “reputation as a serious journalist.”
Media commentators are noting that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has to “win big” at the final presidential debate or “he will lose the general election,” given that he is “down in the polls nationally and in key swing states.”
The National Center for Transgender Equality urged Fox News host Chris Wallace to address the “critical issue” of transgender equality when he moderates the third and final presidential debate on October 19. Despite the unprecedented number of anti-LGBT bills introduced into statehouses, moderators at the general-election vice presidential and presidential debates have so far failed to ask a single question on LGBT equality.
The ongoing fight against LGBT nondiscrimination protections has been in the spotlight at the local, state, and national levels. This year saw an unprecedented number of anti-LGBT bills introduced in state legislatures, high-profile lawsuits from several states against federal policy guidance over transgender student equality, and adoption of North Carolina’s widely condemned HB 2, which, among other things, requires transgender people to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificates.
During the primary season, debate moderators failed to ask Democratic candidates a single question related to LGBT equality in any of the nine debates. Moderators asked Republican candidates several questions related to LGBT issues, including what their thoughts are on Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples; how they would feel about collaborating with a gay-friendly corporate board; and whether “gay marriage dissenters have rights.” Both general-election presidential debates so far, as well as the vice presidential debate, have omitted questions on LGBT equality.
In response to the lack of attention given to LGBT equality during the debates, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality sent moderator Wallace a letter on October 18 urging him to pose a question about transgender students’ rights to access appropriate bathrooms. The letter points to a model question proposed to the Open Debate Coalition by the mother of a transgender 12-year-old girl:
In advance of the second presidential debate, the Open Debate Coalition allowed members of the public to submit questions for the moderators to consider. Amy, the mother of a transgender 12-year-old, submitted the following question: “What would you say to a trans kid forced to use a separate rest room in school?” She went on to write, “My 12 year-old daughter is transgender. She just started middle school, where she has to either use the boys’ restroom or a separate one, making her a target for teasing and bullying, or worse.” Over 6,000 people voted for Amy’s question, demonstrating that this issue is important for far more people than just the transgender community.
As you prepare your questions, we urge you to consider including this crucial issue. We also ask you, of course, to treat these issues with the respect and dignity that we and our families deserve, without repeating the baseless scare tactics used by those who oppose our rights. In particular, if you ask a question about transgender people using the restrooms that match our gender, please take care to frame them as a matter of necessity and not as a matter of choice.
Methodology: Media Matters searched transcripts of two presidential and one vice presidential debate, as well as nine Democratic and twelve Republican primary debates for the 2016 election cycle provided by the Washington Post for the search terms “LGBT,” "gay," “lesbian,” “bisexual,” "transgender," "sexual orientation," and "gender identity."
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