Amy Klobuchar | Media Matters for America

Amy Klobuchar

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  • Fox News town halls give right-wing media new fuel for inaccurate abortion “extremism” talking points

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    During the latest Fox News town hall, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called out the network's oversized role in mainstreaming inaccurate and sensationalized information about abortions that take place later in pregnancy. One of the ways the network and other right-wing media outlets have spread such misinformation is by asking candidates misleading questions about abortion rights and spinning their answers as “extreme." The town hall events have served as yet another chance to deploy this deceptive tactic.

    As at previous Fox News town halls, during the June 2 event, Gillibrand was asked by an attendee about her position on “late-term abortion or last trimester abortions.” In response, she explained that “the debate about whether or not women should have reproductive freedom has turned into a red-herring debate,” thanks in part to highly inaccurate allegations by Fox News and other right-wing media that support for later abortion access amounts to promoting “infanticide.”

    Gillibrand also cited research from Media Matters showing that Fox News “talked about infanticide for 6.5 hours” in the run-up to President Donald Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address and that, in the last week of January, Fox News hosts and guests used the word “infanticide” 35 times when discussing state measures intended to protect abortion access.

    Indeed, Fox News and other right-wing media outlets have seized on these sensationalized talking points about “infanticide” to hound candidates with falsely framed questions or to attack their support for abortions later in pregnancy. This tactic is a crucial part of right-wing media’s playbook for the 2020 elections which relies on the use of anti-abortion misinformation to gin up controversy and support among conservative audiences.

    During Gillibrand's town hall event, moderator Chris Wallace (allegedly representing Fox’s “news” division, although he himself has a history of spreading anti-abortion misinformation) attempted to defend Fox in response to her comments, suggesting she shouldn’t criticize the network that was hosting her. But Fox has been far from friendly to the candidates it has hosted; after previous town halls, network personalities have spent the next day attacking the candidates for their comments.

    In particular, the network, other right-wing media, and anti-choice advocates have used these town halls as a mechanism to falsely characterize Democratic candidates as having “extreme” abortion positions. To begin with, the hosts of these events -- Wallace and another of Fox News’ supposed “straight news” personalities, Martha MacCallum -- have presented abortion-related questions in misleading ways. MacCallum asked both Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) during their town halls whether they supported abortion up to “the moment of birth.” Wallace also asked a misleadingly framed question to South Bend, IN, Mayor Pete Buttigieg about whether he believes in “any limit” on when a person could get an abortion.

    After the town halls, Fox News and other right-wing media spun the candidates’ answers to allege that they support abortion up to birth or “infanticide.” For example, after Buttigieg said he trusts “women to draw the line” on when to have an abortion during his town hall event, Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume claimed that Buttigieg’s position was “not widely held in this country.” Hume further argued that Buttigieg’s position was extreme because he said “there is no moment before birth when he wouldn't support a woman's right to an abortion.” Other Fox News personalities repeated a similar refrain: treating Buttigieg’s comments as evidence of alleged Democratic “extremism” on abortion, a talking point further echoed by other right-wing media and those in anti-abortion circles.

    Sanders’ answer that abortion in the third-trimester "happens very, very rarely” and “the decision over abortion belongs to a woman and her physician” predictably evoked the ire of right-wing and anti-abortion media, with one headline proclaiming “Bernie Sanders Supports Abortions Up to Birth, Okay to Kill Babies Up to Birth Because ‘It’s Rare.’” During the April 16 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson attacked Sanders, arguing that “Like 10 years ago, that would be considered like an extreme position. Today, it's the moderate position in the Democratic Party. Some are defending ‘infanticide’ just flat-out. Safe, legal, and rare. No. That's not at all the position today. It should be free, frequent, and horrifying.”

    Klobuchar received less right-wing media attention after her Fox News town hall and very little of that attention focused on her abortion-related comments. Instead, outlets focused on attacking her claim about Planned Parenthood offering mammograms as a lie -- although the provider does facilitate this care through referrals. For her part, Gillibrand has drawn criticism (including on Fox News) that she was incorrect to attack Fox News because, critics claimed, Democrats do indeed support “infanticide.”

    No matter the focus of right-wing media’s outrage, it is undeniable that Fox News’ abortion-related coverage, including the network’s town halls, has served as the jumping-off point for inaccurate and dangerous rhetoric about abortion access. And whether or not Democrats continue to appear on the network, personalities on both the “news” and opinion sides will undoubtedly continue to deploy this tactic throughout the 2020 election cycle.

  • Without a dedicated climate debate, moderators are likely to let Democratic candidates off the hook

    In the 2016 primary debates, only 1.5% of questions addressed climate change. In 2020, we need to do better.

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER

    Climate activists and some presidential candidates are calling on the Democratic National Committee to make climate change the sole focus of at least one of its 12 planned presidential primary debates. They argue that a climate-centric debate would help voters learn where the candidates stand on potential solutions, motivate candidates to articulate clear climate action plans, and ensure that debate moderators don't give climate short shrift as they have done in years past.

    Activists and voters are pushing to hear from candidates about climate change 

    Environmental and progressive groups including CREDO Action, 350 Action, Greenpeace USA, Sunrise, the U.S. Youth Climate Strike, and Daily Kos are circulating three petitions demanding a climate-focused debate. Together they have garnered more than 155,000 signatures so far.

    At least three Democratic presidential candidates have also called for a debate dedicated to climate change. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was the first, and he launched his own petition. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro have also come out in support of the idea.

    Recent polling data bolsters these entreaties for a climate-focused debate. A CNN poll in late April found that Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters ranked climate change as their top issue: 96% said it was very or somewhat important for a president to support "aggressive action to slow the effects of climate change." A March Des Moines Register/CNN poll found that 80% of likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa would like candidates to spend a lot of time talking about climate change, ranking it alongside health care at the top of issues they want to hear about. And a February poll sponsored by CAP Action Fund, Environmental Defense Action Fund, and the League of Conservation Voters also found that climate change is a top-tier concern for Democratic primary voters and caucus-goers in early voting states, with 84% wanting Democratic presidential candidates to act on the climate crisis and move the country completely to clean energy.

    Activists contend that voters' concerns about climate change won't be adequately addressed in the traditional debate format. A debate dedicated to climate change would drive candidates to clarify their climate platforms as well as explain how they will approach specific issues like environmental justice and a Just Transition.

    The CREDO petition argues that without a climate-focused debate, "news networks and other debate host organizations won't ask more than one or two token debate questions on climate change." The U.S. Youth Climate Strike petition makes a similar point: "With the magnitude of the oncoming climate crisis it's no longer sufficient to have a single token environmental question that 2020 candidates get to brush off with a soundbite. We need an entire debate on environmental policies."

    Activists' concerns about debate moderators neglecting climate change are borne out by Media Matters’ research.

    In 2016 debates, moderators rarely asked questions about climate change, let alone explored the issue in depth

    Moderators and panelists at past presidential debates have largely ignored climate change. Media Matters analyzed 20 presidential primary debates held during the 2016 election cycle and found that only 1.5% of the questions were about climate change -- a mere 22 questions out of 1,477. And during the three general election debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, moderators didn't pose a single climate question.

    The few questions that moderators and panelists did ask about climate change during primary debates tended to be shallow ones with no follow-up, resulting in uninformative exchanges. An example of this dynamic came during the November 2015 Democratic primary debate. After extensive discussion of ISIS and terrorism, CBS' John Dickerson asked Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), "In the previous debate you said the greatest threat to national security was climate change. Do you still believe that?" Sanders responded, "Absolutely," and explained that climate change can exacerbate terrorism. But voters learned nothing new about Sanders' positions or proposals, and the whole setup of the question suggested a false choice between addressing terrorism or the climate crisis. Dickerson and his co-moderators didn't ask any other climate questions at that debate.

    In 2019, CNN candidate town halls have demonstrated the public’s interest in climate change

    The recent slate of CNN town halls with 2020 presidential contenders has shown the public’s desire for the candidates to discuss climate change and given a glimpse of what viewers could gain from a substantive debate focused on the topic. In 18 of the 20 candidate town halls CNN has held this year, an audience member asked a question about climate change. The moderators asked a follow-up question in only six of these instances.

    On the occasions when moderators did push for more specifics, it demonstrated the clarifying role that they can play in helping viewers better understand a candidate's position. For example, after fielding an audience question about the Green New Deal during her CNN town hall on February 18, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) responded, “We may not have agreements on exactly how it will work and when we can get it done,” before discussing climate policies she supports such as reentering the Paris accord and restoring Obama-era vehicle mileage standards. Moderator Don Lemon then asked Klobuchar a series of follow-up questions that pushed her to explain why she believes the goals of the Green New Deal are "aspirations" and why "compromises" will be needed.

    Former Rep. John Delaney’s (D-MD) March 10 CNN town hall offered another example of how moderators can help voters get a clearer sense of a candidate’s climate stances. An audience member asked Delaney what he and his family have done to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Delaney talked about his family’s use of renewables and energy-efficient systems and then discussed his support for a carbon tax and negative-emissions technologies. In a follow-up question, moderator Jake Tapper noted that Delaney had previously disparaged the Green New Deal and asked him to address people who support the resolution, which prompted Delaney to explain that he would instead pursue "realistic" and "bipartisan" solutions and not tie climate action to other policies like universal health care.

    Instances like this -- in which a moderator asks specific, substantive follow-up questions about climate change policy -- have been extremely rare in past years. This year, voters need to hear much more in-depth discussion of climate solutions.

    The science of climate change was clear during the 2016 election season, but now the threat is even more immediate and urgent, especially as the last year has brought us record extreme weather events, alarming climate reports from both the United Nations and the U.S. government, continued rollbacks of climate protections from the Trump administration, and a burgeoning youth movement demanding action. Moderators should ask about climate policy at every debate and follow up to make sure candidates don't skate by with superficial answers. On top of that, hosting a climate-focused debate would give voters the best opportunity to hear a substantive discussion of how candidates plan to lead on the existential crisis of our time.

  • Sunday morning political shows cover climate change in March thanks to Democratic presidential hopefuls

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER

    Sunday morning political shows’ coverage of climate change in March was driven by Democratic presidential candidates, a number of whom are making climate change a key campaign issue. The five major Sunday shows aired a combined six segments in March that included substantive discussion of climate change, and all of them were interviews with 2020 hopefuls.

    The two most in-depth climate conversations came during interviews with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who is focusing his presidential campaign around the need for climate action. Inslee appeared on the March 3 episode of ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos and the March 10 episode of CNN’s State of the Union. On State of the Union, Inslee gave a detailed response to host Jake Tapper's question about the seriousness of his climate-focused candidacy, discussing the severity of the climate threat, how high climate change ranks among issues voters care about, and how climate issues intersect with other issues such as the economy, health care, and national security.

    JAKE TAPPER: So let's talk about climate change. First of all, what do you say to a Democratic voter who hears that your campaign is about climate change, and they think, “Oh, well, then he's not really serious about running for president, he's just trying to get an issue on the agenda”?

    JAY INSLEE: I would say several things. Number one, I would say that we are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation that can do something about it. And we have got one shot. And that's the next administration. We have to have this be the primary, first, foremost, and paramount duty of the next administration, because the world's on fire. And we’ve got to act. And we got a climate denier in the White House. The second thing I would say is: If you care about climate change, you're not alone. A poll just came out in Iowa saying it's the top, number one priority, tied with health care. And the third is, this is not a single issue. It is all the issues. Look, if you care about the economy, the economy is now being ravaged by climate change. And the economic growth that we can have -- I’ve been on a tour looking at all the job creation going on, solar power in Iowa, batteries in Nevada, wind power in Washington. So, I have been on this tour, nationally, looking at what a tremendous job-creating opportunity this is. It's a health issue. It's asthma and infectious diseases. It's a national security issue. I met with Adm. [William] Fallon in Seattle, who talked about the Pentagon telling us what a national security threat it is and how we have Trump trying to tear up the intelligence report.

    Other Democratic presidential candidates who discussed climate change on Sunday shows last month included Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, IN. On the March 17 episode of Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked him about the Green New Deal and Buttigieg responded by emphasizing the need to "act aggressively and immediately on climate."

    Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, who is considering a run for president, appeared on the March 31 episode of State of the Union, where Tapper asked him about the Green New Deal's job guarantee. Moulton said the U.S. could fight climate change and strengthen the economy at the same time by putting people to work doing things like making buildings more energy-efficient.

    Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper both discussed climate change during appearances on NBC’s Meet the Press, even though host Chuck Todd didn’t ask them about the subject. During her March 17 interview, Klobuchar talked about the economic consequences of climate change and extreme weather, noting the role climate change played in the recent devastating flooding across the Midwest as well as in hurricanes and wildfires. On the March 31 episode of Meet the Press, Todd asked Hickenlooper how he would respond to critics of his fossil fuel ties, and Hickenlooper used the opportunity to talk about methane regulations he helped put in place in Colorado and the need for global action to tackle climate change.

    CBS' Face the Nation is the one major Sunday show that failed to air a single substantive discussion of climate change in March. It was the fourth month in a row that the show neglected to cover climate change.

    Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who is calling on the Sunday shows to give climate change more attention, released a scorecard on the shows' March performance:

    The number of segments that included substantive discussion of climate change was down a little in March compared to February, when many of the shows included conversations about the Green New Deal; there were six substantive segments in March versus seven in February. In January, the Sunday shows featured no substantive discussions of climate change.

    Altogether, the first quarter of 2019 featured much more climate coverage than the first quarter of 2018, in which the Sunday shows aired just a single episode that included notable discussion of climate change.

    But climate coverage in the first quarter of 2019 was actually down compared to the last quarter of 2018, when the Sunday shows discussed climate change in the wake of two major reports on climate science from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. government.

    In March, the shows missed opportunities to engage in meaningful conversations about climate change beyond interviews with Democratic presidential contenders. None of the shows' hosts asked questions about the historic and calamitous Midwest flooding that took place last month; Klobuchar is the only person who brought it up. The Sunday shows even failed to address the political maneuvering around the recent Senate vote on the Green New Deal, which is an odd omission for programs that are normally so focused on political fights and one-upmanship. The shows still have work to do to increase the quality and quantity of their climate coverage.

  • Sunday shows finally talk about climate change (but that doesn’t mean the coverage was good)

    After bombshell climate report, Sunday political talk shows bring on climate deniers

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Trump administration tried to bury a major government report on climate change by releasing it on the day after Thanksgiving, but the bombshell report still received substantial media attention, including coverage on all five of the major Sunday morning political talk shows.

    The latest National Climate Assessment report -- a 1,600-page, congressionally mandated document produced by some 300 scientists from 13 federal agencies -- paints a dire picture of how climate change is already affecting the U.S. and how its catastrophic impacts will intensify in coming years. The report was expected to be released in early December, but three knowledgeable sources told The New York Times' Coral Davenport that "administration officials hoped to minimize the impact by making the assessment public on the afternoon of Black Friday, the big shopping day after the Thanksgiving holiday, thinking that Americans might be unlikely to be paying attention."

    But by publishing the report during a slow news period, the Trump team might have inadvertently caused it to get more media attention than it otherwise would have.

    Yesterday was the first time this year that the five major Sunday shows discussed climate change on the same day. ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, CNN's State of the Union, Fox News Sunday, and NBC's Meet the Press all included segments on the new report.

    That's more than the number of Sunday shows that covered another major climate report released in early October by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Only three of the Sunday shows -- This Week, Face the Nation, and State of the Union -- covered that IPCC report.

    Though the Sunday shows covered the new climate report, much of the coverage was poor

    Even though the five big Sunday shows covered the new National Climate Assessment, the quality of the coverage in many cases was downright poor. Some of the hosts invited climate deniers to discuss the report, failed to question them about their denial, and allowed guests to spout denialist talking points with little to no pushback, while other hosts spent only a little time on the report.

    The panel that NBC's Chuck Todd invited to discuss the climate report on NBC's Meet the Press included Danielle Pletka of the Koch-backed American Enterprise Institute, who asserted easily debunked nonsense about the last two years being the coldest in recent history. Todd also asked Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) about the report during an interview, without noting that Lee has questioned basic climate science.

    CNN's State of the Union hosted two climate deniers to discuss the National Climate Assessment: Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and former senator and CNN contributor Rick Santorum. In response to host Dana Bash’s question about how climate change could harm agriculture in Iowa, Ernst engaged in lukewarm climate denial, stating, "We know that our climate is changing. Our climate always changes, and we see those ebb and flows through time." Meanwhile, Santorum praised the Trump administration’s attempt to bury the report and claimed that the scientists who produced it were “driven by money,” an assertion that was widely derided on social media.

    On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) to discuss the climate report’s findings. Sasse decried climate "alarmism," easily dodged Wallace's questions, and pivoted to arguing for further environmental deregulation.

    George Stephanopoulos of ABC's This Week addressed the report during an interview with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), but only spent about two minutes on it.

    Margaret Brennan of CBS' Face the Nation questioned NASA's Steven Clarke about the report, but the exchange about climate change was brief and came in the midst of a discussion about NASA's Mars probe. Still, it marked the first time in nearly three years that any of the broadcast Sunday shows included a scientist in a discussion about climate change; the last time a scientist appeared in a broadcast Sunday show climate segment was the December 13, 2015, episode of Face the Nation. Brennan also discussed the climate report with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

    The fact that most Sunday show hosts only briefly discussed the National Climate Assessment’s urgent findings -- rather than giving them more in-depth coverage with a panel of experts -- is right in line with trends Media Matters has documented in recent years. In the rare instances when Sunday shows address climate change, it is usually within a narrow political framework and includes a similarly narrow range of politicians and political pundits.

    The attempt by the Trump team to bury the report and keep information about climate change out of the public eye is also in line with observed trends. The White House has systematically removed climate change information from federal government websites, especially the site of the Environmental Protection Agency, and EPA officials last year told members of a scientific advisory committee that climate change would be de-emphasized by the administration.