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  • Only 29 percent of key debates in 2018 included a question about climate change

    But the percentage rose notably after release of a dramatic climate report from the U.N. IPCC

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS & EVLONDO COOPER


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Climate change should have been a topic in every election debate this year. The U.S. was pummeled by extreme weather in 2018, and climate scientists are telling us that climate change is the big reason why. Voters deserved to know what, if anything, candidates propose to do about the problem.

    But climate change got short shrift in most key Senate and gubernatorial debates this election season. Out of 78 debates Media Matters analyzed in tightly contested races, only 23 included a moderator or panelist asking a question about climate change -- just 29 percent. (For details, see our scorecard.)


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    That percentage is up a little from 2016 -- when only 22 percent of debates in key competitive races included a question about climate change -- but it's still far too low.

    Yet we did spot a few encouraging trends.

    After October 7, when the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a major report about the urgent need to address the climate crisis, many more moderators and panelists asked about climate change. Only 7 percent of debates (2 of 27) included a climate question before the release of the IPCC report. After the report came out, 43 percent (21 of 49) included a climate question -- a marked improvement. Nearly half of those questions directly referenced the report.

    The journalists serving as moderators and panelists clearly recognized the importance of the IPCC's warning and became more attuned to the urgency of the climate crisis. We hope this attention to climate change will carry forward and inform their reporting in the future.

    We also found that many voters pushed for climate questions to be included in debates, in red and purple states as well as blue ones. At the first Indiana Senate debate on October 10, moderator Anne Ryder, a senior lecturer at Indiana University's Media School, brought up the topic of climate change and said, "I’ll tell you, we’ve received more questions on this than any other topic." In the next debate in the race, a few weeks later, moderator Amna Nawaz of PBS NewsHour told the candidates that several voters had not been satisfied with the answers they gave previously and asked them to detail specifically what they would do to combat climate change.

    In a Colorado gubernatorial debate on October 23, moderator Nic Garcia, a political reporter for The Denver Post, introduced a question about climate change by saying, "When we asked readers and viewers for questions, overwhelmingly this was the No. 1 topic on their mind." And at an Arizona Senate debate and a Wisconsin gubernatorial debate, moderators asked climate questions that had been submitted by members of the public.

    Ahead of an October 21 Florida gubernatorial debate, citizen activists announced that they were going to press moderator Jake Tapper of CNN to ask a question about climate change. But Tapper caught wind of their plans and tweeted that there was no need; he already knew that climate change was a notable topic. He then made it the subject of his first question at the debate.

    Rep. Jared Polis, Democratic candidate for governor in Colorado, said that voters asked him about climate change more than reporters did. "Climate change and environment are a lot more on the minds of people that I meet, and I've had over 300 meet-and-greets in all parts of the state," he said during an interview on November 1.

    When moderators did ask climate questions during debates, the candidates often revealed dramatically different views on the issue -- important information for voters to know.

    During the October 16 Texas Senate debate, for example moderator Jason Whitely, a reporter at WFAA-TV in Dallas, asked Republican Sen. Ted Cruz about his history of climate change denial. Cruz responded by saying, “The climate has been changing from the dawn of time. The climate will change as long as we have a planet Earth.” Whitely pushed Cruz to clarify his views on climate change, but Cruz again dodged the question. When his turn came, the Democrat in the race, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, said, “Look, the climate is changing, and man-made climate change is a fact. Three hundred years after the Enlightenment, we should be able to listen to the scientists and follow their advice and guidance. And they tell us that we still have time, but the window is closing to get this right."

    At the Arizona Senate debate on October 15, moderator Maria Polletta, a reporter for The Arizona Republic, asked Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Rep. Martha McSally about climate change. Sinema responded by explaining that she wants to work on water issues and said, "I firmly believe that as Arizonans, as Americans, we have the resources, we have the tools, we have the skills, and we have the knowledge. We can address issues of climate change together, and do so without harming our business prospects and without harming what makes Arizona so amazing." McSally, in contrast, was scornful of the topic. "I can’t believe this is the last question," she said before changing the subject.

    With the 2018 election season coming to a close, we need journalists to further ramp up the focus on climate change. As new governors and members of Congress take their seats, they will have to make critical decisions about a rapidly changing electricity system, transportation networks, agriculture and land-use practices, and ways to make our communities more resilient in the face of disasters. Reporters should ask elected officials how climate change will factor into those decisions. And when the 2020 campaign season gets rolling, journalists and media outlets will have a crucial role to play in making sure that climate change is discussed in races from the local level all the way up to the presidency. As the recent IPCC report warned us, there's no more time to waste.

  • The Cruz-O'Rourke debate featured no questions on climate change. Will other debates be better?

    Moderators need to be asking questions about climate change

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    Ted Cruz and Beto O'Rourke faced off on September 21 in the most high-profile Senate debate yet of the 2018 election season -- and it did not include a single mention of climate change.

    Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas, and O'Rourke, the Democratic congressman who's challenging him, have starkly different views on the issue, but voters are not hearing enough about those views. Climate change poses huge threats in Texas, including extreme heat, drought, wildfires, and coastal flooding. The Houston area is still recovering from last year's record-breaking Hurricane Harvey, which multiple scientific studies found was made worse by climate change. Long known as an oil and gas powerhouse, Texas now has a big stake in the clean energy economy, leading the nation in wind power and coming in fifth in solar power.

    But the debate’s moderators -- NBC 5 political reporter Julie Fine and Dallas Morning News political writer Gromer Jeffers -- didn't ask any questions about climate change or related energy issues. That was a squandered opportunity.

    "I’m disappointed,” Texas resident Sarah Beasley told ThinkProgress, explaining that she had wanted to hear from the candidates on global warming. Nearly 4 in 10 registered voters surveyed earlier this year said a candidate's position on global warming would be very important when they decide who to vote for in 2018 congressional elections.

    Unfortunately, the Cruz-O'Rourke debate was not an outlier. Of 12 debates in competitive Senate and gubernatorial races that Media Matters has analyzed so far this election season, only one included a question about climate change. That's actually worse than what we saw in the 2016 election season, when Media Matters found that less than a quarter of the debates we analyzed in competitive Senate and governor races featured a climate question.

    The Minnesota governor's race provided the sole debate we've analyzed thus far this year that did address climate change. The moderator, Minnesota Public Radio political editor Mike Mulcahy, asked both candidates -- Republican Jeff Johnson and Democrat Tim Walz -- for their views on climate change, asked a follow-up question, and let the candidates respond to each other's answers.

    The resulting exchange, which went on for more than five minutes, was both substantive and informative. Johnson said that "there is quite a disparate opinion on how much" humans contribute to climate change. (If he was talking about the opinion of climate scientists, that's not true.) He also argued that policies to fight climate change could "cost people a lot of money and hurt people" and might not "make any difference."

    In contrast, Walz said, "We can make a difference. We have to make a difference." He pointed out that shifting to clean energy can lead to a stronger economy and job growth. The debate made the candidates' differing views on climate change crystal clear.

    Attention, debate moderators: We need more exchanges like that. Ask candidates to make clear whether they consider climate change to be a serious problem, and what they propose to do about it. Better yet: Ask how they will respond to climate change's local, state, and regional impacts, which differ around the country.

    Dozens more debates will happen over the next six weeks in the lead-up to Election Day, giving the journalists and others who will act as moderators plenty of opportunities to ask candidates about climate change -- arguably the most pressing issue of our time. Media Matters will be updating a scorecard with details about upcoming debates and contact info for moderators, and after debates happen, we'll report on whether moderators brought up climate change.

    Voters deserve to hear candidates publicly state their views, and the rest of the electorate does too. If there's a debate coming up in your state, let the moderators know that you expect climate change to be on the agenda. In Texas, there are two more chances to get it right: Cruz and O'Rourke will meet again at debates on September 30 and October 16. Houston's ABC13 is asking citizens to submit questions for the next debate. Have any suggestions?

  • On TV networks across the nation, meteorologists made a colorful statement about the impacts of climate change

    Weather forecasters used ties, necklaces, and mugs to educate viewers about global warming

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    If you happened to watch your local weather forecast last week, you might have noticed a striking pattern being featured. On June 21, the first day of summer, meteorologists across the country and around the world took part in the #MetsUnite campaign to raise awareness of climate change by featuring a distinctive “warming stripes” pattern in their broadcasts.

    On air and on social media, meteorologists donned ties and necklaces and showed off coffee mugs featuring the red, white, and blue stripes. The pattern, created by climate scientist Ed Hawkins, uses a color scale to illustrate rising global temperatures driven by climate change from 1850 to 2017. From left to right, each stripe represents a year with blue stripes indicating cooler average temperatures and red stripes indicating warmer ones, making for a clear visual representation of our recent record warming.

    Ed Hawkins

    The #MetsUnite campaign was started by meteorologist Jeff Berardelli of CBS affiliate WPEC in West Palm Beach, FL, who was inspired after seeing Hawkins’ image. “It struck me as an opportunity to communicate climate change in the simplest way possible,” Berardelli told The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang. “In the past few years, it seems the impacts of climate change have accelerated. … And most climate scientists agree we have literally no time to spare to turn the ship around. When we look back, we will view 2015 to 2017 as the turning point years; the years when climate change ‘got real.’”

    Berardelli discussed the campaign during his broadcast on June 21 and connected global warming to West Palm Beach, saying, “Here locally, our temperatures have been shooting upwards. In fact, days above normal, back in 1970 we were at about 30; now our days above normal are over 60, so more than double.”

    Altogether, more than 100 meteorologists around the world took part in the campaign, with many of them making impassioned calls for accepting and addressing the reality of global warming.

    On Minnesota CBS affiliate WCCO, meteorologist Mike Augustyniak emphasized humans’ centrality to global warming, stating, “[Today is] a day where meteorologists across the U.S. are uniting as real scientists to say that climate change is real, it’s happening now, it’s us, we’re causing it, and if we act now, we can actually do something to reverse this.”

    One of the strongest segments came from another South Florida station, which is not surprising given that rising sea levels in the region have driven home the reality of climate change for residents and politicians. On NBC affiliate WTVJ, meteorologist John Morales interviewed Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) about the need for Republicans to embrace the science behind climate change and take action to address it. Morales then concluded the segment by stating, “We will continue to enhance the message that we need to act on climate. Climate change is real, it’s us, and it’s serious.”

    And on NBC affiliate KRNV in Reno, NV, meteorologist Cassie Wilson talked about how the city has been experiencing an increasing number of hotter-than-normal days in recent years, and can expect still more thanks to "the buildup of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere":

    Even as a large number of meteorologists are making strong statements on climate change, members of Congress are attempting to stymie a program that helps meteorologists communicate about climate science during their broadcasts. On the same day that the #MetsUnite campaign took place, four GOP senators attacked the Climate Matters program, which has received some funding from the National Science Foundation. The senators, including Ted Cruz (R-TX) and James Inhofe (R-OK), sent a letter to the National Science Foundation’s inspector general calling for an investigation into the agency's grant-making process. 

    TV meteorologists are well-positioned to help Americans understand how climate change affects their local communities, climate communications experts say, and the Climate Matters program, which was launched in 2012, is helping them do so. In 2010, only about half of broadcast meteorologists in the U.S. accepted that climate change is happening, according to polling by George Mason University. By 2017, the percentage had risen to 95. And there was a 15-fold increase in TV weather forecasters' segments discussing climate change between 2012 and 2017. In 2018, thanks in part to the #MetsUnite campaign, we're likely to see the number of climate segments keep increasing.

  • Ted Cruz said he always opposed government shutdowns. He told Hannity something else in 2013.

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)  told reporters he has “consistently opposed shut downs,” a statement that contradicts his position in 2013.

    In 2013 Politico reported that Cruz’s colleagues were “angry” with him “for helping prompt a government shutdown crisis without a strategy to end it.” And earlier in the year on Hannity, Cruz endorsed the idea of a “partial government shutdown,” while also agreeing with Sean Hannity that the 1995 shutdown was positive because “We got to a balanced budget for the first time.” From the Janury 8, 2013 edition of Fox News’ Hannity:

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): You said something the other day I was really glad you said. I think the Republicans were weak when it came to the fiscal cliff. I think they have a lot more leverage now over the debt ceiling.

    TED CRUZ:  Yep.

    HANNITY: So my question to you, you said they should be willing to shut the government down, not all functions of the government.

    CRUZ:  Right, right.

    HANNITY: What would you shut down and do you think your fellow Republicans will do that?

    CRUZ: Well, I hope we stand strong. The reason we got a lousy deal with the fiscal cliff, is that President Obama had the leverage. Because when you've got divided government, whoever owns the default, whoever wins if nothing is done is in the strongest position, and Obama was in a strong position there because if nothing was done taxes were raised on every American taxpayer. With respect to the debt ceiling, we have the default. If fiscal conservatives stand together we can forcesome substantive reforms, some pro-growth reforms, and if not the effect is not a default and Obama is going to say that over and over and over again, and we’ve got to be very clear, it's not a default we should always, always, always pay our debts. But what the effect would be is a partial government shutdown. And we’ve seen that before, we saw it in 1995 with Republicans in congress.

    HANNITY: It worked. We got to a balanced budget for the first time.

    CRUZ: Year after year after year.

  • Five guidelines for reporting on Trump's sabotage of health care subsidies

    News media face a challenge as Trump rescinds subsidies for millions of working-class Americans

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump announced on October 12 that he would be ending cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers, which have been a crucial part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that have helped ensure low-income Americans can afford health insurance. During the fight over the ACA this summer, media outlets made a litany of mistakes in their health care coverage. Given the dire consequences of this latest move to dismantle the ACA, it’s increasingly important that coverage avoids a few key pitfalls.

    Do: Call this what it is -- part of a long-term effort to sabotage the health care system

    Ending cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments is the latest move in the Republican-led effort to sabotage the ACA, and media must say so. Republican efforts to take down the ACA are nothing new, but they have been regalvanized under Trump’s presidency. A lot of the destruction Trump and his cronies have caused has been in the shadows, and that strategy has fooled the media into neglecting to mention the role of sabotage whenever anything goes wrong in the health care market.

    The ACA was doing fine before Trump got his hands on it. Despite the near constant complaints from right-wing media figures of a “death spiral,” analyses found that the Obamacare markets were “stabilizing.” Even the Trump administration’s own Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a report finding stable markets in 2016.

    This sabotage really shouldn’t be surprising. Trump said he would “let ObamaCare implode,” if congressional efforts to repeal and replace the ACA failed. As Topher Spiro of the Center for American Progress wrote, “It’s now impossible for Republicans to blame Obamacare for any premium increases or insurer exits” given all the attempts to ruin the law.

    Do: Elevate experts who know what they’re talking about

    Health care is complex. There’s no need for media to muddle that complexity with falsehoods from talking heads spouting partisan lies or useless punditry. Fox News, predictably, often relies on its “Medical A-Team” to make dubious claims and lie about health care. CNN similarly has problematicexperts” whom the network often leans on for health care analysis, including Stephen Moore, who has somehow built a career on pushing shoddy predictions, misinformation, and misleading claims. Cable news also too often gives valuable time to pundits who focus on "optics" or politics, rather than policy.

    When real experts have appeared on cable news, however, these doctors, health care beat reporters, and current and former health care officials have effectively debunked misinformation and accurately explained the debate at hand. These are the kind of people media should be hosting. Tell Stephen Moore to take the day off.

    Do: Let people know how Trump’s sabotage will impact them

    Ending CSR payments is going to rattle the markets and increase costs for both the country and millions of Americans. Here are just a few reasons why:

    • HealthAffairs.org’s Timothy Jost noted that without CSR payments, “some insurers might well decide that the government is an unreliable partner and give up on the exchanges for 2018.”

    • The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that premiums for some plans “would, on average, rise by about 20 percent in 2018 relative to the amount in CBO’s March 2016 baseline and rise slightly more in later years.”

    • And the Kaiser Family Foundation found that ending these payments “would result in a net increase in federal costs of $2.3 billion” next year compared to current projections.

    These facts should be front and center in every report and interview about Trump’s newest move. In the past, local newspapers, cable morning shows, Sunday political shows, prime-time cable news, broadcast news, and national newspapers have omitted key consequences of health care proposals from their reporting. Media should learn from past mistakes and bring attention to these consequences.

    Don’t: Fall for the conservative “bailout” spin

    Conservatives have repeatedly tried to frame CSRs as “bailouts” to the insurance industry. The problem with that is they’re wrong.

    Trump used the “bailout” spin in July:

    Fox & Friends did this morning:

    And Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) did the same thing on Fox News’ America’s Newsroom today:

    As The Washington Post Fact Checker explained, “A bailout means a company is being propped up with government money after making bad decisions. That’s not the case here.” Additionally, according to the Commonwealth Fund, the payments are reimbursements the federal government gives to insurers for providing subsidies that include “lower copayments and deductibles for people in households earning between 100 percent and 250 percent of the federal poverty level.”

    Republicans want people to think these payments are bailouts, because that sounds a lot more scandalous than helping low-income people buy insurance. Media shouldn’t adopt that frame.

    Don’t: Let Republicans off the hook for their hypocrisy

    Many of the ways Trump has acted to sabotage the ACA have been through executive order or unilateral action from the executive branch. Predictably, under former President Barack Obama, Republicans routinely freaked out over any executive order or unilateral action het put into place. If they come out supporting Trump’s use of unilateral action to end these payments, they should be called out as hypocrites.

    Two Republicans vocal in their opposition to Obama’s use of executive orders were Cruz and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). When Cruz appeared on the October 13 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom to cheer Trump’s decision to end these payments, he was not asked about this hypocrisy:

    Jordan, however, was challenged on this point during his appearance on the October 13 edition of CNN’s New Day, with co-host Chris Cuomo pressing him on his previous criticism of unilateral action by the executive branch:

    All journalists should follow Cuomo’s line of questioning when speaking to any lawmaker in the coming days who was critical of Obama’s use of executive power, especially on health care.

  • “Mind control,” “shadow government,” and Seth Rich: Sean Hannity’s history of pushing conspiracy theories

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Fox News host Sean Hannity attracted widespread condemnation for pushing conspiracy theories about a murdered Democratic National Committee staffer, but it wasn’t his first time promoting or entertaining such wild claims on air. From claiming that the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick protested the national anthem because he “may have converted to Islam” to implying that former President Barack Obama is a terrorist sympathizer, here are some examples of Hannity embracing conspiracy theories.

  • How Fox News’ Male Hosts Are Endangering Women All Across America 

    Bill O’Reilly, Tucker Carlson, And Sean Hannity Are Almost Always Wrong About Abortion, And They’re Giving Other Men A Platform To Push Further Misinformation

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    If you’re searching for the most misinformation-filled block of television during evening cable, look no further than the Fox News lineup of Bill O’Reilly, Tucker Carlson, and Sean Hannity. In a finding that will shock almost nobody with even cursory knowledge about abortion and reproductive rights, this all-male lineup has spent the past 12 months promoting rampant misinformation on these topics.

    Media Matters analyzed evening prime-time news programs on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC from March 7, 2016 through March 1, 2017, for segments featuring a substantial discussion of abortion and reproductive rights. The 354 total segments were then coded for the number of accurate or inaccurate statements they contained about three topics: the discredited anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), Planned Parenthood’s essential services, and late-term abortion.

    Out of 116 total statements made during The O’Reilly Factor, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and Hannity (out of 120 total statements on the network), 103 were inaccurate. If the sheer amount of misinformation isn't enough, the vast majority of them were made by men. Of the 110 total appearances by hosts, guests, or network correspondents on these programs in 12 months, 81 were made by men (74 percent).

    When seeking information about abortion -- particularly accurate information -- most women presumably wouldn’t turn first to a man. Fox News, however, has ensured its prime-time block is dominated by male voices.

    With the exception of The Kelly File, which ceased airing after then-Fox news host Megyn Kelly left the channel, and The First 100 Days, which didn’t begin airing until after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Fox’s prime-time evening lineup is dominated by male-hosted programs. And these programs also promote mainly male voices when it comes to the topics of abortion and reproductive rights.

    From March 7, 2016, through March 1, 2017, The O’Reilly Factor featured 47 appearances from men (71 percent) and only 19 from women (29 percent) during segments about abortion. During the same 12-month period, there were 26 appearances by men (76 percent) and only eight by women (24 percent) to discuss reproductive rights on Hannity. Tucker Carlson Tonight did not begin airing until after the 2016 election, making the sample size smaller than either The O’Reilly Factor or Hannity. However, of the five months of Tucker Carlson Tonight considered in Media Matters’ analysis, the program featured 80 percent male appearances in discussions about the reproductive rights of women.

    Overall, during the 12-month study period, 74 percent of appearances among all three programs featured men talking about abortion and reproductive rights. Excluding guests who were employed by Fox News (as professional commentators, analysts, or contributors), all three programs also largely hosted male guests, many of whom have a history of anti-choice policy making.

    For example, The O’Reilly Factor served as a platform for guests including Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Mike Pence -- all of whom have openly supported anti-choice policies. The male guests on Hannity unsurprisingly included Reince Priebus, who would become Trump’s chief of staff, and then-Trump adviser Anthony Scaramucci.

    Hannity was also the only person on evening cable news to host discredited anti-choice activist David Daleiden, founder of CMP. Every other program -- even, surprisingly, other Fox News programs -- deemed the anti-abortion activist who deceptively edited smear videos and has since been charged with 15 felonies in California an unpalatable guest.

    Luckily for Daleiden, there’s always Sean Hannity. With their powers combined, Daleiden and Hannity managed to conduct a full segment featuring 100 percent inaccurate information in terms of CMP, Planned Parenthood's essential services, and late-term abortion. During his April 2016 appearance on Hannity, Daleiden made five inaccurate statements about the veracity of CMP’s work -- even though multiple state and federal investigations found that the organization's claims about abortion providers were baseless. Hannity himself contributed three inaccurate statements about CMP during the segment and zero accurate ones. This pattern was not limited to just his segment with Daleiden, however. Hannity managed to make only inaccurate statements on these topics throughout the entire study period.

    Although Tucker Carlson appears to share Daleiden’s affinity for employing deceptive editing and even using actors to represent highly curated versions of opposing viewpoints, he managed -- without Daleiden's help -- to be wrong 100 percent of the time about CMP, Planned Parenthood's essential services, and late-term abortion.

    O’Reilly, Hannity, and Carlson also featured primarily guests who openly represent anti-abortion organizations, including Marjorie Dannenfelser (president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List), conservative commentator Crystal Wright, Alveda King (anti-abortion activist for Priests for Life and Civil Rights for the Unborn), and Abby Johnson (founder of CEO of And Then There Were None).

    Overall, Media Matters’ analysis found that 80 percent of statements about CMP, Planned Parenthood's essential servies, and late-term abortion made during Fox News’ evening prime-time programming were inaccurate. It should come as no surprise that The O’Reilly Factor, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and Hannity were responsible for 67 percent of the network’s inaccurate statements.

    Then again, if your ace prime-time lineup is composed of a man accused of being a serial sexual predator who can’t stop advertisers from fleeing his program (and is likely about to lose it), a hero of white nationalists who is known for bullying his guests, and Sean Hannity, you’re probably not that worried about ensuring accuracy or giving women’s voices an equal platform.

    *Graphics by Sarah Wasko

  • 5 Questions CNN Should Ask During The Sanders-Cruz Obamacare Debate

    Blog ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    Moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash should utilize the February 7 CNN debate between Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) on “the future of Obamacare” to ask targeted questions about the GOP’s plans to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and how that will affect the American health care system. As CNN’s town hall with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) demonstrated, these forums can serve as opportunities to fact-check misinformation, but they can also fail to substantively engage on specific policy issues. Moderators should be prepared to pose specific questions to Cruz, the representative for “the viewpoint of President Trump and the Republican party,” on distinct policies proposed by the GOP to repeal and replace the ACA.

    While there is no shortage of important questions about the negative impacts of repealing the ACA on Medicare, job growth, LGBTQ equality, the budget deficit, and mental health care services, moderators must prioritize the subjects they can address in the time allotted. Here are five of the most important questions that CNN should ask Cruz in tonight’s debate.

    1. Will The GOP Replacement Cover As Many People As The ACA, Which Has Reduced The Number Of Uninsured Americans By More Than 20 Million People? 

    Implementation of the ACA has resulted in a record low number of uninsured Americans -- merely 8.6 percent in June 2016, down from over 16 percent in 2010. Numerous reports have noted that Republican politicians continue to obfuscate about whether their replacement for the ACA would cover as many people as Obamacare does, likely because none of their proposed policies would. Vox’s Sarah Kliff analyzed the existing replacement plans and found that all of them would reduce coverage, with the number of people impacted ranging by between 3 million and 21 million people.

    Given that Cruz himself dodged this question during a 2016 Republican presidential primary debate, this new venue provides a unique opportunity to press the senator on whether the Republican replacement will maintain existing coverage levels.

    2. Will The Replacement Plan Rescind ACA Provisions That Pertain To Women’s Health, Like The Contraception Mandate, The Prohibition On Gender Rating, And The Sex Discrimination Ban? 

    Congressional Republicans, including President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Tom Price (R-GA), have publicly opposed some ACA provisions regarding women’s health care. As CBS News noted, the debate over the ACA resurrects the risk of “a return to higher premiums for women” and “gaps in coverage for birth control and breast pumps.” The ACA also banned discriminatory practices, like sex discrimination and gender rating, while significantly reducing out-of-pocket costs for women’s birth control.

    Tapper and Bash should ask about the future of women’s health care, making sure to reference the specific gains made by the ACA to prevent generic answers that dodge the question.

    3. Can You Guarantee That Medicaid Block Grants Won’t Result In Benefit Cuts For Recipients?

    One of the leading GOP proposals for reforming the health care system revolves around changing Medicaid’s funding structure to a block grant system, which caps the amount of funding a state receives from the federal government. While conservatives typically discuss block grant proposals in terms of allowing states to “innovate,” in reality, most block grant proposals shift Medicaid costs to the states, which would cause chaos on state budgets and force draconian cuts in services covered by Medicaid.

    Under the ACA, the Medicaid expansion extended health insurance to millions of low-income Americans, making a discussion of proposed changes a necessity during the debate.

    4. How Is It Possible For An ACA Replacement To Keep Popular Parts Of The Law, Like The Ban On Denying Coverage To Those With Pre-Existing Conditions, While Also Eliminating The Individual Mandate? 

    Numerous conservatives, including Trump, have pledged to keep certain parts of the ACA, like the ban on denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and the provision that allows young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance until age 26. But they simultaneously promise to get rid of other provisions, like the individual mandate and the varied taxes, which provide the revenue to fund the popular parts of the law.

    As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote, it’s “impossible” to keep certain popular provisions “while eliminating unpopular parts,” because the “good and the bad depend on each other.” This tension is a central fault line in discussions about the ACA and should be a central theme in CNN’s town hall.

    5. Given The Terrible Track Record Of High-Risk Pools, Would Resurrecting Such A System Simply Repeat The Mistakes Of The Past? 

    One of the few specific health care policies Republicans have championed in pushing to repeal and replace the ACA involves the resurrection of high-risk pools. Despite conservative attempts to repackage high-risk pools as a new idea, they have a long history of problems, as they typically are chronically underfunded, are prohibitively expensive for customers, and provide inadequate coverage. As the Los Angeles Times’ Michael Hiltzik noted, 35 states used high-risk pools prior to the implementation of the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and the experience was “almost universally grim.”

    Moderators should ask about high-risk pools, because they would degrade access to health care to those who are most vulnerable and need care the most.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz’s “Challenge” To The Media To Cover AG Nominee Sessions’ Involvement In Prosecuting A KKK Murderer Lacks Key Details

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) implored the media to run segments on attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (R-AL) participation in the prosecution of an Alabama Klansman who lynched an African-American youth. But in his retelling of the 1981 prosecution, Cruz omitted key information, specifically that Sessions’ subordinate in the U.S. attorney’s office later testified that Sessions tried to dissuade him from pursuing prosecution in the case.

    On March 21, 1981, Michael Donald, an African-American teenager, was lynched in Mobile, AL, by Henry Hays and another conspirator. Hays was acting on the orders of his father, who was second in command of Alabama’s Ku Klux Klan organization, to randomly kill an African-American in retaliation for the murder of a white police officer.

    Local law enforcement severely botched the murder investigation. As reported by The Atlantic, one law enforcement officer told reporters that the murder was a case where “three junkies had killed this lowlife black man who thought he could take drugs from them and not pay.” Other members of law enforcement attempted to smear Donald with allegations of other criminal conduct.

    At the time of the murder, Sessions was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. Following the failure of local law enforcement to properly investigate the case, an assistant U.S. attorney in Sessions’ office, Thomas Figures, became the “driving force” in securing the involvement of attorneys in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. During the subsequent prosecution, Sessions took on a “supervisory role,” working in concert with Figures, attorneys from the Civil Rights Division, and state prosecutors. Hays was convicted of murder, sentenced to death, and later executed.

    Sessions lists his participation in the case as one of his biggest career accomplishments, and conservative media have repeatedly cited the case to defend Sessions against longstanding allegations of racism. (In 1986, the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected Sessions’ nomination to the federal bench amid testimony that he directed racially derogatory language toward Figures, who was black, and allegations that Sessions used his position as a prosecutor to unfairly target minorities.)

    During the first day of Sessions’ confirmation hearings on January 10, Cruz cited the case and the statements of other attorneys who worked on the case who said that Sessions was cooperative and helpful during the prosecution. Cruz then issued a "challenge," saying, “I would encourage the news media: Cover this story. Tell the story on the six o’clock news about Jeff Sessions helping prosecute a Klansman who had murdered an innocent African-American man, and putting him on death row, and bankrupting -- helping bankrupt the Klan in Alabama. That’s a story that needs to be told.”

    In his remarks, Cruz failed to mention Figures’ testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee during Sessions’ failed 1986 nomination. Figures testified that Sessions sought to prevent him from forming a prosecutable case, telling him at the time “that the case was a waste of time, that it wasn’t going anywhere, that I should spend more time on other things, and that, if the perpetrators were found, I would not be assigned to the case.” As Figures recounted, Sessions came on board only when it “became increasingly apparent that we were going to break the case.” During the 1986 hearing, Sessions denied Figures’ allegations. From The Atlantic:

    In 1986, Figures testified before the Senate that while it was “literally true” that Sessions had not “obstructed the investigation of the murder of Michael Donald,” Sessions had “tried to persuade me to discontinue pursuit of the case.” Figures said that Sessions “remarked, with regard to the investigation, that the case was a waste of time, that it wasn’t going anywhere, that I should spend more time on other things, and that, if the perpetrators were found, I would not be assigned to the case.” Figures told the Senate that after the case went to the grand jury, and it “became increasingly apparent that we were going to break the case, Mr. Sessions attitude changed” and that he supported the prosecution.

    Sessions’s statements to the Senate in 1986 about his supervisory role in the case are more modest than what he and his supporters say today, and while his testimony at the time generally did not directly contradict Figures’s account, Sessions insisted that he did not urge Figures to drop the case.

    Significantly, Cruz’s secondary claim about Sessions helping to bankrupt the Klan greatly overstates Sessions’ involvement. It was actually Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center who conceptualized and executed the novel civil lawsuit that led to that outcome, using the facts of the Hays murder case to establish that the Klan had organizational liability for Donald’s murder. A 1987 New York Times article on the verdict makes no mention of Sessions, instead focusing on the members of Donald’s family, attorneys, and activists who played the primary role in securing the outcome.