John Dickerson | Media Matters for America

John Dickerson

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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.

  • How broadcast TV networks covered climate change in 2017

    ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    Broadcast TV news neglected many critical climate change stories in 2017 while devoting most of its climate coverage to President Donald Trump. Seventy-nine percent of climate change coverage on the major corporate broadcast TV networks last year focused on statements or actions by the Trump administration, with heavy attention given to the president's decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement and to whether he accepts that human-caused climate change is a scientific reality. But the networks undercovered or ignored the ways that climate change had real-life impacts on people, the economy, national security, and the year’s extreme weather events -- a major oversight in a year when weather disasters killed hundreds of Americans, displaced hundreds of thousands more, and cost the economy in excess of $300 billion.

  • Fox and CBS' Sunday political shows ignored reports of former RNC finance chair Steve Wynn's sexual misconduct

    Blog ››› ››› SANAM MALIK

    The Sunday shows on Fox Broadcasting Co. and CBS failed to mention new allegations of sexual misconduct against casino mogul and former finance chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC) Steve Wynn.

    On January 26, The Wall Street Journal reported on allegations of sexual misconduct by Wynn from dozens of his employees and others at Wynn Resorts spanning decades. According to the Journal, people who have worked at for Wynn “described him pressuring employees to perform sex acts.” In one case, Wynn paid a $7.5 million settlement to a manicurist who “told a colleague Mr. Wynn had forced her to have sex.”

    Wynn, who President Donald Trump has called “a great friend,” has “donated millions to Republicans” and became the RNC’s finance chair after the 2016 election. He has also donated far smaller amounts to some Democrats in the past. Wynn resigned from his position at the RNC following these reports.

    Despite the serious nature of the allegations and the growing attention to sexual misconduct issues in the workplace brought by the #MeToo campaign, the January 28 editions of Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday and CBS’s Face the Nation ignored the reports altogether.

  • Sunday political talk shows completely ignored Trump White House officials' use of private email accounts

    ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox’s Fox News Sunday, and NBC’s Meet the Press all failed to mention Jared Kushner and other Trump officials used private email accounts

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT

    The October 1 editions of all the Sunday political talk shows failed to discuss the news that several White House officials in the Trump administration used private email accounts to conduct official government business, making themselves vulnerable to espionage from foreign entities.

    On September 25, The New York Times reported that at least six White House advisors, including Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus, had used personal email accounts to conduct official government business. The Times’ story followed a Politico report that Jared Kushner, a senior advisor and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, had used a private email account to conduct correspondence related to White House matters. Even though the story that White House advisors used personal email accounts for official business was reported several days ago, ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation,  CNN’s State of the Union, Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday, and NBC’s Meet the Press all failed to discuss it during their Sunday morning broadcasts.

    As the Times notes, “Officials are supposed to use government emails for their official duties so their conversations are available to the public and those conducting oversight.” According to Politico, the National Security Agency (NSA) had “warned senior White House officials in classified briefings” against the “improper use of personal cellphones and email,” as it “could make them vulnerable to espionage” by foreign entities. By failing to discuss the news of the officials’ use of private accounts, Sunday political talk shows ignored a significant story and failed to inform their audiences of yet another example of the lack of transparency that has been an endemic in the Trump administration. The Sunday shows’ failure to report on officials’ use of personal email accounts is particularly shocking given the media’s obsessive focus on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State throughout the 2016 election.

    Methodology: Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of “emails,” “private email server,” “personal email,” and “private server” on the October 1 editions of ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday, and NBC’s Meet the Press.

  • Pundits overlook John Kelly's extreme record, instead speculate that he could save Trump

    ››› ››› NINA MAST

    Media figures and political strategists flocked to the Sunday shows to speculate that Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly will promote “discipline” and reduce “chaos” as White House chief of staff, and that Trump will listen to him because he “respects” military officers. What their analyses left out is Kelly’s extreme policy position on immigration and his defense of Trump’s chaotic Muslim travel ban implementation.

  • Media Headlines Parrot Trump's False Claim That GOP Health Care Bill Covers Pre-Existing Conditions

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Multiple news outlets' headlines parroted President Donald Trump’s false claim that the current proposed Republican health care bill includes protections for people with pre-existing conditions, when in fact the bill would end the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) prohibition on insurance companies charging people with pre-existing conditions higher premiums. The incorrect headlines continue media outlets’ unfortunate pattern of parroting false claims from Trump.

    In a pre-recorded interview on April 29 with CBS’ Face the Nation, Trump discussed the current version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the House Republican bill that would dismantle the ACA, which was amended in order to gain support from the conservative House Freedom Caucus. During his discussion of the effort with CBS’ John Dickerson, Trump incorrectly claimed that “pre-existing conditions are in the bill,” and that “we've set up a pool for the pre-existing conditions so that the premiums can be allowed to fall.” From a transcript of the interview:

    JOHN DICKERSON: Well, this is why I wanted to ask you. You said to Tucker, "We will take care of our people, or I am not signing it." You said you were going to negotiate.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, that's what I just said.

    JOHN DICKERSON: So tell me what in the bill you've been negotiating to get--

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But let me--

    JOHN DICKERSON: --in that helps your supporters. I'm just trying to get the details of how your people--

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Let me just tell you.

    JOHN DICKERSON: --will be helped.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I just watched another network than yours, and they were saying, "Pre-existing is not covered." Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I mandate it. I said, "Has to be."

    [...]

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This bill is much different than it was a little while ago, okay? This bill has evolved. And we didn't have a failure on the bill. You know, it was reported like a failure. Now, the one thing I wouldn't have done again is put a timeline. That's why on the second iteration, I didn't put a timeline.

    But we have now pre-existing conditions in the bill. We have -- we've set up a pool for the pre-existing conditions so that the premiums can be allowed to fall. We're taking across all of the borders or the lines so that insurance companies can compete--

    White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer later clarified to The Associated Press that Trump was indeed referring to the current version of the bill. According to the AP, Spicer said that “under the current version people with pre-existing conditions who maintain coverage will not be impacted,” and that “waivers would change how states could treat those who don't maintain insurance and they could find ways to ‘incentivize people to obtain coverage before they fall ill.’”

    According to Vox health care reporter Sarah Kliff, the latest version of the bill “would give states authority to let insurers charge sick people higher premiums.” Kliff added that the bill “caves to conservatives’ demand … to deregulate the insurance industry and let health plans once again use pre-existing conditions to set premium prices” by having “waivers that states can use to let health insurers charge sick patients higher premiums, a practice outlawed under current law.” Kliff also noted that, in his reference to pools, "It sounds like Trump may be confusing preexisting conditions with high risk pools."

    But multiple outlets’ headlines did not point this out, instead highlighting Trump’s claim without noting it was false or misleading.

    Politico:

    CNN:

    CBS News:

    The Hill:

    Fox News:

    The latest error is yet another example of media outlets publishing inaccurate headlines about Trump’s false statements since his election. These have included Trump’s false claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, his false claim that media underreport terrorist attacks, and his baseless claim that Obama “is behind” numerous leaks in his administration and numerous protests against him.

    Getting the headlines right is critical: The Washington Post reported on a study in 2014 finding “roughly six in 10 people acknowledge that they have done nothing more than read news headlines in the past week.” As such, outlets need to accurately report these stories so consumers who do not read past the headline have a correct understanding of what happened.

  • Punditry On Syrian Airstrikes Is Encouraging Trump To Escalate Tensions With North Korea

    Similar Media Support Helped Enable Iraq War

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After President Donald Trump launched airstrikes against Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack in that country, media figures from across the political spectrum praised his “beautiful” attack, with many also linking the action to the growing threat that another country -- North Korea -- poses to the United States. Effusive media support of military conflict was a key precursor to the Iraq War; the danger of such uncritically hawkish commentary has multiplied under Trump, who sources policy ideas -- and defenses for his conduct -- directly from media.

  • The White House Put Stephen Miller On Four Sunday Shows To Dodge, Lie, And Attack The Media

    Meanwhile, The White House Freeze-Out Of CNN Continues

    ››› ››› NINA MAST & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    The Trump administration offered White House senior adviser Stephen Miller -- and reportedly no one else -- to appear on the Sunday morning political talk shows of ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox Broadcasting Co. In his appearances on the four shows, Miller repeatedly dodged questions, made blatantly false claims, and attacked the media. Recent profiles of Miller have highlighted his extreme ideological views, his close relationship with Stephen Bannon, and the “enthusiasm” of white nationalists like Richard Spencer over his role in the administration.