Presidential Debates

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  • Conservative Media Wrongly Pin Democrats' Election Losses On Climate Change Focus

    ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    In the aftermath of the election, conservative media figures have alleged that Democratic candidates’ emphasis on climate change was a reason they lost, claiming this focus alienated or drove away voters. But numerous polls conducted in the run-up to the election indicated that a majority of Americans consider climate change an important issue and favor government action to address it, and an exit poll similarly revealed that most voters in Florida view climate change as a serious problem. While these polls indicate that a focus on climate change didn’t harm environmentally friendly Democratic candidates, a plausible explanation for why the issue may not have helped them is the lack of attention it received from the media, including during debates.

  • Final Scorecard: Climate Change Absent From Debates In Most Key Senate And Governors’ Races 

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    In late September, we launched a real-time scorecard to keep tabs on how often debate moderators and panelists in the presidential election and 18 tightly contested Senate and governors’ races were asking the candidates about climate change. We’ve been constantly updating the scorecard ever since, publishing transcript and video/audio whenever climate questions were asked. Check out our completed scorecard here.

    The November 4 Senate debate in Illinois was the last of the 55 debates we examined, and the final results are not pretty for those of us concerned about climate change. Here are the key takeaways from our scorecard of climate change questions in presidential, Senate, and governors’ debates:

    • Just 12 of the 55 debates held in these key races included questions about climate change (22 percent). If you exclude the three presidential debates and the vice-presidential debate, where the lack of climate questions was well-chronicled, the portion of debates with climate questions inches up to 24 percent.

    • Broken down by individual race, only eight of the 19 contests featured at least one debate question about climate change (42 percent). In addition to the presidential campaign, debate moderators completely ignored climate change in the following races: Arizona Senate, Indiana Governor, Missouri Senate, Missouri Governor, Montana Governor, Nevada Senate, New Hampshire Governor, North Carolina Senate, North Carolina Governor, and West Virginia Governor. Each of these states face serious climate-related challenges, some of which I detailed here.

    • Only races in two New England states -- Vermont and New Hampshire -- featured more than one debate with a climate question. The Vermont Governor race had four debates with questions about climate change, and the New Hampshire Senate race had two.

    • In six of the 12 debates with climate questions, the climate questions were asked because voters spoke up and asked them. The climate change questions generated by voters included a Twitter question in Wisconsin, two Facebook questions in Vermont, an audience question in Ohio, a question from the Open Debate Coalition website in New Hampshire, and a question in Indiana submitted to the Indiana Debate Commission using an online form.

  • Climate Silence Witnessed At Presidential Debates Extends To Key Battleground States

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    There were roughly 190 questions (including follow-ups) asked to the candidates during the presidential and vice presidential debates this year, and not one of them was about climate change. This stunning media failure has rightly drawn the attention of journalists, environmental groups, and at least one U.S. senator.

    But it’s also important to recognize that the climate silence we have witnessed on the national stage is not unique to the presidential election. Media Mattersdebate scorecard is tracking climate change questions in 18 of the most closely contested Senate and governors’ races across the country, and the results so far are troubling. We’ve found that just eight of the 37 debates held in these races through October 20 included questions about climate change. That's 22 percent.

    Climate change was not addressed in the Senate debate or any of the three governors’ debates in North Carolina, a state that was recently devastated by Hurricane Matthew, which featured record-breaking rainfall and flooding that scientists have linked to global warming. It was also ignored in the Senate debate in Arizona, which was recently identified as the western state that is most at risk from increased wildfires as a result of climate change, and in both governors’ debates in West Virginia, which suffered through flooding over the summer that was made worse by global warming.

    There have also been zero climate change questions in Senate or governors’ debates in Missouri, Montana, and Nevada, which are all among the states that are least prepared to deal with emerging climate-related threats, according to a report card produced by Climate Central and ICF International.

    The eight debates that have included climate change questions occurred in seven states: Florida (Senate), Indiana (Senate), New Hampshire (Senate), Ohio (Senate), Pennsylvania (Senate), Wisconsin (Senate), and Vermont (in two debates for governor).

    In more than half of these states, the climate questions were asked because voters spoke up and requested them. In Wisconsin, the climate question was submitted by a citizen via Twitter. In Vermont, the moderator asked a climate question submitted by a voter on Facebook. In Ohio, an audience member asked the climate question. And in Indiana, the climate question, while flawed, was submitted by a voter to the Indiana Debate Commission.

    The lesson from both the presidential debates and these Senate and governors’ debates is clear: If voters want to hear about climate change, they’ll need to continue to press moderators to ask about it and continue to take advantage of opportunities to make their voices heard.

  • James O’Keefe Says Journalists Never Release Raw Footage Because It Would “Tell A Different Story”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Project Veritas Action, a group run by discredited right-wing videographer James O’Keefe, recently released two heavily edited videos purporting to reveal that Democratic operatives aligned with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign were “rigging the election.” O’Keefe is refusing to release the unedited footage his undercover operatives shot -- something his groups have routinely done in the past -- citing a need for journalistic integrity while simultaneously hinting that he had purposely edited the footage to “paint a specific picture.”

    O’Keefe released his latest edited videos on October 17 and October 18 and then almost immediately began complaining that mainstream news outlets were ignoring his efforts due to “fear of retaliation” from a future Clinton administration. Several media figures were quick to point out that O’Keefe’s refusal to release unedited footage from the undercover videos made it difficult for reporters to vet and accurately report on the purported stings, and that O’Keefe’s past track record of misleadingly editing footage make these latest videos even less credible. ThinkProgress reported this afternoon that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s private charitable foundation gave $10,000 to O’Keefe’s Project Veritas about a month before Trump declared his presidential candidacy, adding further unanswered questions about the videos’ legitimacy.

    O’Keefe’s response to criticism was to argue that journalists never reveal “raw unedited materials” because “it’d probably paint a different picture.” His reaction seemed to simultaneously suggest that:

    (a) he, like other journalists, would never reveal “unedited materials” (though he has before), and

    (b) if reporters like himself did release those materials, they would reveal selective editing (like his materials have before).

    In the post-debate spin room last night, O’Keefe again reiterated his claims that no “journalists” release their “raw, unedited notebooks” and that his refusal to release the raw footage from his latest video series is no different. Media Matters president Bradley Beychok captured O’Keefe’s explanation to Majority.FM’s Sam Seder, in which O’Keefe also appears to admit that his role as a “journalist” includes piecing the videos “together to tell a specific story”:

    SAM SEDER: Are you going to release the full footage of your tapes?

    JAMES O’KEEFE: Why don’t you ask all these journalists here if they’re going to release their full, raw, unedited notebooks?

    SEDER: But it’s a different--

    O’KEEFE: No, listen. Sam--

    [CROSSTALK]

    SEDER: James, you have to admit it’s a different thing--

    O’KEEFE: Is it? Is it? Is it?

    SEDER: Undercover video where it’s been shown, I mean, there were several reports that showed during the, that you have edited tapes in such a way to prove your--

    O’KEEFE: Name one edit I’ve made. I want you to name right now, for your audience, name one specific edit I have made. Because I can debunk every one of those reports. Go ahead.

    SEDER: Well, I mean, I haven’t [unintelligible].

    O’KEEFE: OK, well I would like you to get back to me.

    SEDER: But you can debunk that by releasing that video. Why wouldn’t you release all the video?

    O’KEEFE: Because no journalist in their right mind would ever release their raw notebooks and if they did, Sam--

    SEDER: Well, it’s not a notebook. It is caught on camera.

    O’KEEFE: Let me tell you something: No journalist ever releases the raw, and the reason, and if they did, if all these journalists released the raw, you would see a different story. They piece words together to paint a specific portrait.

    SEDER: So you paste the words together to paint--

    O’KEEFE: No. I have video. I don’t just have words. I have video.

    [...]

    SEDER: Are you saying you did piece it together to paint a picture?

    O’KEEFE: That’s what journalism is. Journalism is telling a story. And I will stand by every single edit. I will go to -- I will be in contempt of court to protect my undercover reporters because I’m standing for something greater than myself. I’m standing for the right of citizen journalists. No one here would ever dare release their raw. No one would.

    Project Veritas routinely released hours of raw footage for a number of its alleged stings until mid-2014. O’Keefe says the group stopped doing this because “they’ll manufacture reasons why it’s doctored/fake.” In actuality, O’Keefe’s raw footage -- whether released seemingly voluntarily or not -- has repeatedly revealed egregious instances of selective editing over the years.

    Project Veritas first made national headlines in 2009 with a series of heavily edited videos purporting to show staff members of the now-defunct nonprofit ACORN engaging in criminal behavior. Subsequent investigations revealed that the workers had engaged in no illegal activity, and that O’Keefe had employed “highly selective editing of reality.” He later had to settle a case filed by an ACORN staff member who was fired because of the edited videos, paying the man $100,000 and issuing a public apology.

    O’Keefe’s own unedited footage negated a 2011 attempt to tell a specific story that an NPR executive had called members of the Tea Party “racist.” In reality, the executive had been quoting someone else; that part was conveniently edited out. “How quickly things seem to fall apart when James O’Keefe is the person who put them together,” concluded the Columbia Journalism Review. Washington Post writer Michael Gerson explained that O’Keefe had “manufactured an elaborate, alluring lie.”

    Raw footage from a 2012 undercover video similarly disproved O’Keefe’s story that local officials in New York state were agreeing to waste taxpayer money on a fake company that dug holes and filled them up again. Instead, the footage just showed officials trying to be courteous to actors they believed were constituents in an absurd, manufactured situation.

    O’Keefe stopped releasing his own unedited footage in May 2014, shortly after Media Matters used the raw footage from an edited Project Veritas video purporting to expose “Hollywood’s War On U.S. Energy” to debunk the video. O’Keefe’s group had cut parts of a secretly recorded conversation mid-sentence to paint a certain picture that two environmental producers were accepting funding from foreign oil interests; the unedited footage revealed they were actually discussing something completely different.

    This May, Project Veritas Action released raw footage on YouTube for a video series purporting to show “voter fraud” committed by Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in New Hampshire, when prompted to do so by the state’s attorney general. At the time, O’Keefe made similar claims about journalistic integrity. This is how the group’s press release ended (emphasis added):

    In order to assist the State of New Hampshire with their investigation of voter fraud and other election-related irregularities, PVA is releasing the raw footage associated with all three videos to Governor Hassan and the Attorney General she appointed, as well as making the footage available to the general public on a YouTube channel.

    “When Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said that ‘sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,’ he probably didn’t envision viral YouTube videos,” said PVA President James O’Keefe. “These videos provide ample evidence of criminal behavior to assist the state in the immediate investigation of electoral malfeasance. Hopefully, those caught engaging in voter fraud will receive the swift hand of justice. Likewise, the videos spotlight a significant legislative problem which could have easily been avoided if Governor Hassan hadn’t vetoed last year’s residency bill.” 

  • Chris Wallace Botched The Discussion Of Immigration At The Final Presidential Debate

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Fox News’ Chris Wallace, moderator of the last presidential debate, failed to generate a meaningful discussion on immigration, meaning audiences “learn[ed] nothing new,” according to Univision. Instead, the moderator provided another platform for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant bashing while failing to dig deeper into the serious consequences immigration policies have on millions of people in the United States.

    Wallace initiated the discussion around immigration by stating the positions that both of the candidates have made known to the public throughout the campaign and then asking each, “Why are you right and your opponent wrong?”

    During Univision’s post-debate analysis, commentators took issue with the immigration segment because audiences “learn[ed] nothing new” even though many had been clamoring for a meaningful discussion of the topic leading up to the final debate. As Univision legal contributor Ezequiel Hernandez pointed out, many questions on specifics still linger: “The executive action was not discussed, judges were talked about in the previous topic, but the thousands of children who get to the border and are left waiting and who are deported until something is done were not discussed.”

    Wallace stuck to his promise of being nothing more than a timekeeper and failed to dig deeper on the topic, instead framing his next query around an illegally obtained excerpt of a speech Hillary Clinton gave to a Brazilian bank where she allegedly said, “My dream is a hemispheric common market with open trade and open borders.” Wallace asked Clinton, “Is that your dream? Open borders?” while ignoring both the context of Clinton’s words and Trump’s 2013 CNN op-ed in which he said, “We still have to leave borders behind and go for global unity when it comes to financial stability.” Trump had already attempted to capitalize on Clinton’s phrasing on the campaign trail, which prompted PolitiFact to analyze the claim and rate it “mostly false,” calling her immigration plan "a far cry from Trump's characterization." PolitiFact also explained that “the context of that sentence related to green energy -- and wasn’t about people immigrating to the United States.” As NBC News’ Suzanna Gamboa wrote,“The candidates seemed on the verge of a more insightful discussion” until Wallace directed the debate toward the “open borders” comment, which is when “things began to crumble.”

    As predicted, Trump took advantage of Wallace’s inaction and vague immigration questioning, using it as a platform to once again smear immigrants as violent criminals, conjuring up a phrase offensive to Latino immigrants in particular: “bad hombres.”

    Meanwhile, the pressing, life-altering questions many Latino immigrants have -- like the question 6-year-old Sophie Cruz suggested on OpenDebateCoalition.com, “What happens to me if you deport my parents?” -- remain unanswered.

  • Chris Wallace And The Banality Of Conservative Dishonesty

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA

    Fox News anchor Chris Wallace has received widespread praise for his performance as moderator of the final presidential debate, despite repeatedly injecting right-wing framing and misinformation into his questions. The celebration of Wallace’s performance highlights the extent to which conservative spin has become normalized in national politics.

    Following the October 19 debate, commentators across the political spectrum praised Wallace for his performance as moderator. Wallace was lauded for his “blunt questions,” “evenhanded approach,” and “sterling performance,” and he was even described as the “one clearcut winner” of the debate.

    Some of this praise is legitimate -- Wallace repeatedly grilled Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on questions of policy and at times forced him to stay on topic in his answers. And the most newsworthy moment of the debate -- Trump's refusal to say whether he’d accept the results of the elections -- came in response to Wallace’s pointed, repeated questioning near the end of the event.

    But Wallace also exposed his audience to a large dose of right-wing misinformation:

    • His question about the economy began with the false premise that President Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan damaged the economy.
    • His question about immigration took Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s 2013 comments about “open borders” grossly out of context.
    • His question about abortion access invoked the right-wing myth of “partial-birth” abortion, a non-medical term invented by anti-abortion groups.
    • His question about the national debt falsely alleged that programs like Social Security and Medicare are going to run out of money and add to the debt absent short-term cuts, echoing Republican talking points about entitlements.

    Wallace also failed to fact-check Trump’s frequent falsehoods -- following through on his promise not to be a “truth squad” during the debate.

    Wallace’s rave reviews from Republicans and Democrats alike highlight the extent to which right-wing dishonesty -- made ubiquitous by Fox News and conservative media -- has become normal in national politics. Wallace’s network has spent years repeating and mainstreaming these types of lies -- the stimulus failed, Democrats want open borders, et cetera. Viewers have heard them so often that it can feel passé to go through the motions of debunking them over and over. Journalists become so numb to the talking points that they can hear them being repeated by a debate moderator during a presidential debate without batting an eye.

    That’s how political propaganda works -- not by outright convincing people, but by treating a lie as so routine and unremarkable that people slowly stop being suspicious of it.

    Journalists’ willingness to accept and overlook Wallace’s bullshit is even greater when it’s being compared to the absurdity of Donald Trump. When Trump is on stage claiming his opponent should be disqualified from running for office or suggesting he might not accept the results of the election, it feels nitpicky to worry about the misleading nature of many of Wallace’s questions. Trump’s unhinged, out-of-control campaign style makes everything around him seem normal and tame by comparison. We’re willing to forgive Wallace’s occasional dishonesty because we’re so grateful that he pointed out Trump is literally threatening a core democratic principle.

    But becoming numb to Wallace’s casual, subtle dishonesty is incredibly dangerous. Fox News’ modus operandi is making right-wing misinformation so pervasive and constant that it becomes unnoticeable -- it becomes part of the noise we just take for granted in American politics. What makes Wallace such an effective purveyor of dishonesty is that he’s good at playing the part of the reasonable, “even-handed” journalist, even when what he’s saying is wrong.

    It’s easy to challenge bullshit when it’s being delivered wildly by Trump on a debate stage. It’s much harder to challenge it when it’s being subtly baked into questions from a moderator whose employer has spent years trying to blur the lines between serious journalism and right-wing fantasy.

  • Seven Pressing Debate Questions We Never Heard

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Presidential debate season is officially over, and critical policy questions that directly impact millions of Americans remain unasked just 19 days before the election.

    Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump met last night in Las Vegas, Nevada for the final presidential debate, which was likely the last chance for the candidates to discuss specific policy issues face-to-face before November 8. Just as in the previous two presidential debates this year, moderator Chris Wallace chose to focus questions on a handful of familiar topics. Even within the context of six pre-announced debate topics, Wallace could have asked questions on major policy issues that deserve thoughtful and substantive prime-time discussion from the presidential candidates, like affordable health care, climate change, or tax plans.

    But that didn’t happen. When debate discussions did manage to turn to policy specifics on critical topics like reproductive rights or gun violence prevention, Wallace didn’t ask necessary follow-up questions or offer clarifications on the facts. (Prior to the debate, Wallace announced his intention to be a debate timekeeper rather than fact-checker.)

    All in all, last night’s debate largely covered the same ground as the previous two debates, both in topics discussed and in tone. If any of the three debates had focused more aggressively on what’s truly at stake -- what voters have said they wanted asked, what people actually believe is most important for their own families and communities -- the questions in this debate cycle would have looked very different. And the answers could speak for themselves.

    Let’s explore just how hard the moderators dropped the ball.

    This year, the United States began the process of resettling its first climate refugees. A bipartisan group of top military experts warned that climate change presents a “strategically-significant risk to U.S. national security and international security.” While Clinton wants to build on President Obama’s climate change accomplishments, Trump wants to “cancel” the historic Paris climate agreement, “rescind” the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan, and dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency -- and he’s even called global warming a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.

    Moderators did not ask a single question about the effects of climate change in any of the three presidential debates or the vice presidential debate.

    Several tragic mass shootings -- including the single deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, at the LGBT nightclub Pulse in Orlando, FL, in June -- have shaken the nation since the beginning of the election season. Gun deaths in the United States, both in instances of mass shootings and in more common day-to-day violence, vastly outnumber gun deaths in other Western democracies -- so much so that the American Medical Association has declared gun violence a public health crisis. And Americans are overwhelmingly ready for lawmakers to take action. Seventy-two percent of voters say gun policy is “very important” in determining their vote this year, and an astonishing 90 percent of voters -- representing both Democrats and Republicans -- think that strengthening background check requirements for firearm purchases is a good place to start, as does Clinton. Trump recently told the National Rifle Association -- which has endorsed him  -- that he opposes expanding background checks. 

    Moderators failed to ask a single question about specific policies for gun violence prevention in the first two presidential debates, and they failed to ask a question about background check policies specifically in any debate. In the final debate, Wallace asked about gun policies in the context of the Supreme Court’s 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision about the scope of the Second Amendment, but he failed to follow up when Trump skirted questions about the case and about his specific positions on several gun policies like his opposition to an assault weapons ban and his oft-repeated false claim that "gun-free" zones are responsible for public mass shootings. The entire exchange lasted just under five minutes.

    Though seven in 10 Americans support legal abortion and one in three American women report having had an abortion procedure, states have enacted 288 anti-choice laws since 2010. These laws are creating a crisis by preventing women from low-income families -- many already parents who are struggling to keep families afloat -- from receiving the health care services they need. Some evidence even suggests greater numbers of women are contemplating dangerous self-induced abortions due to a lack of access to care. Trump has espoused support for these types of restrictive laws, and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), wants to “send Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history.”

    But moderators did not ask a question about the candidates’ stances on reproductive rights until the final debate -- when Chris Wallace asked about Roe v. Wade. Again, Trump repeatedly lied about abortion policy, and the misinformation was left hanging as Wallace pivoted to a new topic after about five minutes of discussion.

    How about tax policies? Tax rates are a critical issue that directly affect all Americans, and the candidates’ respective tax policy proposals could not differ more. Clinton’s plan would benefit low- and middle-income families most and hike tax rates only for the wealthiest earners and for corporations. Trump’s plan has been called “a multitrillion-dollar gift to the rich” that “screws the middle class,” and has been panned even by conservative economists and The Wall Street Journal. One analysis concluded that Clinton’s plan  “trims deficits,” while Trump’s plan could add $6.2 trillion to the national debt. These numbers directly impact  the short-term and long-term financial health of families and communities, and 84 percent of voters say the economy is “very important” in deciding their vote in 2016.

    Substantive questions about the candidates’ specific tax plans were missing from the debates, though Trump still managed to lie about his tax proposals on several occasions. When the candidates mentioned their tax plans briefly in the final debate when asked about the economy, Wallace again lived up to his promise not to fact-check.

    A record number of anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in state legislatures this year, and LGBT students face significantly more violence than their peers, but the debates did not include a single question about policy positions related to LGBT equality.

    About 70 percent of today’s college graduates leave school with student loans, and more than 43 million Americans currently have student debt. This economic squeeze is changing how Americans plan their families, buy homes, and spend their money. Clinton has responded by making college affordability a signature issue of her campaign, while Trump’s newly described plan could “explode the student debt crisis.” Neither candidate was asked to address this issue either.

    The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world -- we account for 5 percent of the world’s population but a whopping 25 percent of the world’s prison population. Inmate organizers recently launched what could be the nation’s largest prison strike to draw attention to deplorable prison conditions. The majority of Americans want to see changes to a federal prison system they believe is “too large, too expensive, and too often incarcerating the wrong people.” Moderators didn’t ask about criminal justice reform policies at all.

    The presidential debates instead largely focused on statements made on the campaign trail, whichever offensive comments Trump had made most recently, and -- again, always -- Hillary Clinton’s email use as secretary of state. Viewers might now  know a lot about these topics  -- or at least what each candidate has to say about them -- while still having very little information on the candidates’ starkly contrasting policy positions on issues with direct and immediate consequences to citizens’ daily lives.

    Americans relied on moderators to raise the questions they think about every day, to help them understand how the next president can help ensure that their families are safe, secure, and set up to thrive. It’s a shame the debates did not deliver. 

  • If USA Today Is Concerned About Fossil Fuel Groups Spreading Climate Confusion, It Should Stop Helping Them Do It

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    In an October 19 editorial, USA Today criticized the “powerful fossil fuel lobby” for standing in the way of addressing climate change by “underwrit[ing] organizations that challenge the science and confuse the public.” Yet at the same time, USA Today provided a forum for precisely that sort of climate confusion by publishing its editorial alongside a falsehood-filled op-ed by the head of a fossil fuel industry front group.

    In its editorial, which expressed dismay at the lack of climate change discussion in the presidential debates, USA Today cited fossil fuel industry front groups as one of the “obstacles” to addressing climate change:

    [A]s with pension promises to public employees, today’s politicians will be long gone when the worst effects manifest themselves. The powerful fossil fuel lobby resists change; it underwrites organizations that challenge the science and confuse the public. And no individual city, state or nation can solve the climate problem; that will take a global effort in which individual countries have economic incentives to cheat on their emissions-reduction pledges.

    Given all these obstacles, the progress of the past year has been remarkable.

    But as is often the case, USA Today published this editorial -- which it describes as “our view” -- alongside an “opposing view,” a practice that has frequently resulted in USA Today publishing scientifically inaccurate claims about climate science that could confuse its readers. And this instance was no different.

    In this case, the “opposing view” was written by Alex Epstein, whom USA Today identified as “president and founder of the Center for Industrial Progress, a for-profit think tank that has clients in the fossil fuel industry.” That disclosure of Epstein’s fossil fuel ties is commendable, but it does not excuse publishing an op-ed containing false claims about climate science.

    In the op-ed, Epstein claimed that political candidates who “think carefully about the magnitude of man-made warming and compare it with the unique benefits of fossil fuels” will conclude that “man-made warming is mild and manageable, not runaway and catastrophic.”

    But Epstein’s claim that global warming is “mild and manageable” directly contradicts the findings of the world’s leading climate scientists. For example, NASA says that “small changes in temperature correspond to enormous changes in the environment,” and notes that the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that “the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time." Similarly, the National Climate Assessment states that climate change impacts “are expected to become increasingly disruptive across the nation throughout this century and beyond,” and that there is “mounting evidence that harm to the nation will increase substantially in the future unless global emissions of heat-trapping gases are greatly reduced.”

    According to Epstein, one reason that the “unique benefits” of fossil fuels outweigh their impact on the climate is that wind and solar energy are “expensive.” But that’s also not true, particularly for wind. As Fortune magazine recently reported, a new report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance found:

    Electricity generated by large wind farms is now cheap enough in many places around the world to compete effectively with electricity generated by coal and natural gas.

    At the same time, solar panel farms aren’t quite low cost enough to be as competitive with fossil fuels as wind energy is. Still, the cost of electricity generated by solar panels has also come down significantly this year.

    The Bloomberg New Energy Finance report further stated that wind and solar will “become the cheapest ways of producing electricity in many countries during the 2020s and in most of the world in the 2030s.” And analyses from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and investment banking firm Lazard show that wind energy is already the cheapest source of electricity in some parts of the country.

    Epstein also peddled the myth that “only the fossil fuel industry” can rescue poor people around the world from “energy poverty.” The truth is that fossil fuels are not economically viable in most of the communities that suffer from a lack of electricity, and experts say distributed renewable energy sources are often a more effective way to lift the world's poor out of energy poverty.

    The USA Today editorial board is correct when it writes, “Aside from the possibility that mankind will blow itself up, no issue is more important to the future of the planet than global warming.” And it's right when it pinpoints climate science denial by fossil fuel front groups as a major roadblock to dealing with the climate crisis.

    The question, then, is an obvious one: Why does USA Today continue to provide a forum for these front groups to confuse the public about climate change?

  • Fox’s Chris Wallace Pushes Candidates To Accept GOP Budget Priorities During Debate

    Moderator Falsely Claims Social Security And Medicare Are “Going To Run Out Of Money” Without Major Benefit Cuts

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Fox News host and 2016 presidential debate moderator Chris Wallace used the last question of the presidential debate to push both the Democratic and Republican nominees into accepting a past GOP proposal -- harmful cuts to vital entitlement programs as part of a national debt-reducing “grand bargain.”

    Wallace opened his question by falsely claiming that “the biggest driver of our debt is entitlements” like Social Security and Medicare while falsely equating the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) analyses of Donald Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s tax and economic policy proposals. Wallace claimed that the CRFB “has looked at both” the Trump and Clinton tax plans and concluded “neither of [them] has a serious plan” to address “the fact” that Medicare and Social Security are going to run out of money in the next two decades: 

    CHRIS WALLACE: The one last area that I want to get into with you in this debate is the fact that the biggest driver of our debt is entitlements, which is 60 percent of all federal spending. Now the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has looked at both of your plans and they say neither of you has a serious plan that is going to solve the fact that Medicare is going to run out of money in the 2020s, Social Security is going to run out of money in the 2030s, and at that time recipients are going to take huge cuts in their benefits. So, in effect, the final question I want to ask you in this regard is, and let me start with you, Mr. Trump. Would President Trump make a deal to save Medicare and Social Security that included both tax increases and benefit cuts -- in effect, in effect a grand bargain on entitlements?

    [...]

    WALLACE: Secretary Clinton, same question, because at this point Social Security and Medicare are going to run out -- the trust funds are going to run out of money. Will you as president entertain -- will you consider a grand bargain, a deal, that includes both tax increases and benefit cuts to try to save both programs?

    Wallace’s question ignores three important points.

    First, the CRFB did not score the Clinton and Trump tax plans as roughly equivalent in terms of their impact on the debt and deficit. According to a September 22 analysis from the organization, Trump’s economic agenda will create $5.3 trillion in new debt accumulation over the next decade -- more than 25 times more new debt that Clinton’s more balanced plan. University of Michigan economist and New York Times columnist Justin Wolfers tweeted a chart from CRFB showing how Trump’s plan would “explode” the national debt beyond current projections, whereas Clinton’s proposal leaves it “basically unchanged”:

    Second, as economist Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities wrote on Twitter, Medicare and Social Security “DO NOT run out of money!!” because they are paid for by secured trust funds and specific permanent tax provisions. Bernstein also noted that the Affordable Care Act, which Trump vowed to repeal during the debate, has actually extended Medicare “solvency by 11 years.” Economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research added that, because the program can only spend money from a protected trust fund, “Social Security can’t legally drive the debt.”

    Third, Wallace’s supposed solution to avoid benefit cuts for Social Security and Medicare recipients in the 2030s is to start implementing those cuts today. As New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has noted many times, “these proposals would be really bad public policy” and would harshly impact low-income Americans who rely on the programs for retirement security. The only reason Social Security faces a long-term revenue shortfall is because the payroll tax that funds it is only applied to the first $118,500 of individual earnings. If the payroll tax cap was lifted to include more taxable earnings, the program could bring in more revenue and be funded through the end of the century. As Krugman notes, “while most Americans love Social Security, the wealthy don’t. Two years ago a pioneering study of the policy preferences of the very wealthy found many contrasts with the views of the general public; as you might expect, the rich are politically different from you and me. But nowhere are they as different as they are on the matter of Social Security.”

    Wallace’s decision to relitigate the failed “grand bargain” from 2011 wasn’t the only example of the Fox News host using the debate as a forum to push a conservative policy agenda. However, his specific fearmongering and misleading framing of the debt and entitlements does vindicate economic policy experts’ many concerns about him moderating the debate in the first place.