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  • 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.

  • Conservatives are lying about the migrant caravan to scare people into voting for Republicans

    Blog ››› ››› LEANNE NARAMORE

    Just two weeks ahead of the midterm elections, right-wing media figures and President Donald Trump are spreading lies about the migrant caravan, falsely claiming that the caravan has been infiltrated by radical terrorists and is on its way to invade and destroy the U.S. These lies are designed purely to scare people into voting for Republicans in the midterms; any honest reporting on this situation must be framed around that fact. Here are some good examples so far, via CNN, MSNBC, and Shepard Smith on Fox News:

  • Alex Jones: Phone call with threat to shoot CNN’s Brian Stelter and Don Lemon is a false flag

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones called a death threat against CNN’s Brian Stelter and Don Lemon that was phoned into C-SPAN a “false flag” during a video posted on August 5 to Jones’ YouTube channel. The video was one of the last posts uploaded to Jones' channel before YouTube terminated his account on August 6.

    On August 3, a person identified as “Don from State College, PA,” called into C-SPAN to falsely claim that Stelter and Lemon had called all Trump supporters racist. The man ended his call by saying, “They started the war. If I see ’em, I’m going to shoot ’em. Bye.” Stelter covered the threat on his show Reliable Sources on August 5.

    Jones reacted to Stelter’s coverage by calling the death threat a “false flag” and “phony as a three-dollar bill.” According to Jones, the call “sound[ed] completely fake” and was part of a plot to “hype everything up and get it ready for civil war.” Jones also called Stelter a “little monster hunchback” and “ugly twisted lying filth”:

    Jones has used his YouTube channel to heap abuse upon Stelter in recent months, including posting videos (since removed when his account was terminated) with the titles “Brian Stelter And Michael Wolff Are The True Faces Of Evil,” “Alex Jones Challenges CNN's Brian Stelter To Fight For $1,000,000!,” and “Internet on Fire Comparing Subway Spokesmen Jared Fogle With Brian Stelter.” (Fogle is serving a 15-year prison sentence for possessing child pornography and having sex with minors.) During a January broadcast of The Alex Jones Show, Jones went on a bizarre rant where he claimed Stelter “runs your kids, he runs the schools, he runs the banks” and drinks children's blood. During the rant, Jones addressed Stelter: “You will pay. Yeah, you don’t think I see your face, scum? You don’t think I don’t see you, Stelter? I see you, you understand me?”

    On the evening of August 5, it was reported that Apple had banned Jones from its iTunes platform for violations of its content policies. Facebook followed suit on August 6, removing the four primary pages where Jones shared content. Last month, YouTube deleted four videos Jones posted and banned him from livestreaming for three months because of content violations. On August 6, YouTube removed Jones' channel from its platform.

  • Right-wing media are filling a void of abortion-related coverage with misinformation

    Fox News is dominating the conversation about abortion on evening cable news -- and the network is doing it all wrong

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    A 12-month-long Media Matters study of evening cable news programs found that Fox News dominated discussions of abortion and reproductive rights and that the network was wrong about four common abortion-related topics 77 percent of the time.

  • Right-wing CNN contributor accidentally debunks right-wing myth about Planned Parenthood funding

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    CNN contributor and right-wing radio host Ben Ferguson gave up the game on one of right-wing media’s favorite inaccurate talking points about Planned Parenthood, admitting that the organization does not use taxpayer funding to cover abortion services.

    The comment came during a discussion on the March 27 edition of CNN Tonight with Don Lemon about the National Rifle Association (NRA) saying that it accepts foreign donations. Ferguson was attempting to defend the NRA’s assertion that its foreign donations are separate from election contributions. He stated that the NRA is “separating the funds” in “the same way that Planned Parenthood, for example, is not allowed to use funds that come from the American taxpayers for abortions. They separate it.” Later in the segment, Ferguson again said that there are “certain guidelines” about where Planned Parenthood’s taxpayer funding goes and “that money cannot be used directly for abortion services.”

    After host Don Lemon called out Ferguson’s double standard, saying that “the criticism from those on the right” is that Planned Parenthood doesn’t separate taxpayer funding from its abortion funding, Ferguson claimed conservatives were actually mad that Planned Parenthood receives taxpayer funding at all. However, the myth that Planned Parenthood’s taxpayer funding supports its abortion services is a frequent right-wing talking point, often framed around the idea that “money is fungible.” In reality, as Ferguson alluded to, the Hyde Amendment prohibits any federal funding from going to abortions. Planned Parenthood merely receives reimbursement for services covered under Medicaid. From the March 27 edition of CNN Tonight with Don Lemon:

    DON LEMON (HOST): Do you think that that practice will invite the misuse of funds, Ben? I mean, if they don't take foreign money, they don't have to worry about the funds being used illegally.

    BEN FERGUSON: I don't. And I think the NRA is pretty smart about this, separating the funds. The same way that Planned Parenthood, for example, is not allowed to use funds that come from the American taxpayers for abortions. They separate it, so that there is a very clear separation line here when you know you're going to be under scrutiny from people that don't like you. It's not illegal for the NRA to take foreign funds. Many nonprofits and many groups that have activism or ideas like this and others on the conservative/liberal side for decades have been taking foreign funds from people that support what they're about and what they're backing. I don't think there is going to be an issue here. I think certainly people want to play politics with this. But I think the NRA knows that they're under a microscope and have been for years. And they've never had problems with this in the past.

    LEMON: So, but the critics on the right say the money always can't be separate when it comes to Planned Parenthood and abortions. That's really the criticism from those on the right. But you're saying now --

    FERGUSON: Well, the criticism --

    LEMON: -- that the NRA can separate.

    FERGUSON: Not really. It’s not -- it's not the criticism.

    ANGELA RYE: Yeah, it is.

    FERGUSON: The criticism is that you're taking my taxpayer's dollars and you're giving them to an organization that is the number one abortion provider in the U.S. They give more abortions than anybody else with my tax dollars.

    LEMON: Ben, you're saying the money can be separated.

    FERGUSON: No one is giving money --

    LEMON: You just said in one breath, though --

    FERGUSON: Right, here’s the point --

    LEMON: -- that the money can be separated when it comes to the NRA, no matter where it comes from, foreign entities or whatever.

    FERGUSON: Again --

    LEMON: So, if people are paying tax money, and they’re saying your tax dollars will not go towards abortions, so --

    FERGUSON: There is a fundamental difference between Planned Parenthood and the NRA. The NRA does not receive taxpayers’ dollars. If they did, many people like Angela would be very upset with that. That is why I'm upset --

    RYE: First of all --

    FERGUSON: -- with Planned Parenthood receiving funds. My point was again this: There are certain guidelines that go in that make it very clear that you cannot have taxpayers’ dollars when it goes -- and hundreds of millions of dollars a year go to Planned Parenthood. That money cannot be used directly for abortion services.

  • CNN commentator Ed Martin attacks woman who reported that Roy Moore molested her as a child

    Martin: “What is this woman? She’s got multiple bankruptcies"

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    CNN aired a segment featuring political commentator Ed Martin in which he attacked the woman who reported that Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore molested her as a child, saying, “What is this woman? She’s got multiple bankruptcies, it’s reported.”

    The Washington Post reported that Leigh Corfman said Moore molested her when she was 14 and he was 32. Three other women told the Post that “Moore pursued them when they were between the ages of 16 and 18 and he was in his early 30s.”

    Martin, who endorsed Moore in September, did not respond to a request for comment from Media Matters this week about whether he still supports Moore in light of the Post investigation. But during an appearance on the November 10 edition of CNN Tonight, he made clear that he does. Martin told CNN viewers that the story is a “political hit” and said that he believes Moore in part because the woman has had “multiple bankruptcies.”

    DON LEMON (HOST): Do you believe Roy Moore, or do you believe the women?

    ED MARTIN (CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR): I believe Roy Moore because why? Because after 40 years and 40 days before the election, you get a political hit? Don, if you’re remotely serious, you have to first say: What is this woman? She’s got multiple bankruptcies, it’s reported. She’s got multiple false accusations, it’s reported. Is any of that being covered? When [Sen. Mitch] McConnell comes out and says with a straight face before any of those facts are got, he says, “Oh boy if it’s true, he has to get out of the race.” That’s called a political hit. And Don, we the people, the American people, we’re sick of both parties, Democrats and Republicans.

    LEMON: I’ve got to get Evan [McMullin] in but I have to say, I don’t know, I don't -- it is not CNN’s reporting about any false allegations, we will certainly check into that.

    MARTIN: OK, good.

    LEMON: But she admitted in The Washington Post article that she has a past and that she was afraid that people would use it against her.

    Martin joined CNN in September despite having previously called the network “fake news” and “state-run media.” He joins a stable of at least a dozen other pro-Trump CNN commentators who often provide theatrics instead of informative segments on the cable network.

    He previously co-authored a book suggesting that only immigrants from European countries could have American “values” and arguing that accepting immigrants “from Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East” helps tear “apart our nation’s heritage and social fabric.”

    Martin is not the only CNN talking head who has been trying to help get Moore elected. Network contributor Ken Cuccinelli and his Senate Conservatives Fund group endorsed the Alabama Republican in September. A message sent to that group by Media Matters about the endorsement was not returned.