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New York Times columnist David Leonhardt called on Fox News host Chris Wallace to base “his questions on budget reality” during the “debt and entitlements” portion of the third and final presidential debate that he will moderate tonight -- the first general election debate ever moderated by a Fox personality. Given Wallace’s track record of parroting right-wing media budget hysteria from his anchor desk at Fox News, it is possible that the moderator will fall short of what Leonhardt characterized as his “reputation as a serious journalist.”
Final presidential debate moderator Chris Wallace faces the challenge of asking Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump about the numerous allegations that he sexually assaulted several women, but Wallace’s ability to confront Trump’s treatment of women is no doubt tainted by his own history of sexist and sexually charged rhetoric about women.
Wallace, anchor of Fox News Sunday, has made numerous sexually charged remarks about women, such as calling the National Transportation Safety Board chair a “babe” and remarking that “you would not expect a government bureaucrat to be an attractive woman” and making creepy comments about former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin for years. Appearing on conservative radio host Mike Gallagher’s show in 2009, Wallace asked if Gallagher could “put in a good word” for him with Palin. Just a few months later, on Imus in the Morning, Wallace replied, “one can only hope” when asked if Palin would be “sitting on [his] lap” during an interview. Even the hosts of Fox & Friends, who are no strangers to sexism, confronted him over those comments. Wallace also explained in 2011 that one of the reasons he was “dazzled” by Palin is that she’s “very attractive.”
In 2015, Wallace again stirred controversy when he remarked that singer Kelly Clarkson, who had already been fighting an onslaught of body shaming in the media, “could stay off the deep dish pizza.” The comment brings to mind Trump’s statements about former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, whom he called “Miss Piggy” and described as an “eating machine.” Wallace did eventually apologize, calling his comment “offensive.”
Making fun of Clarkson’s weight, however, was not the first time Wallace ridiculed a woman’s appearance. In 2013, Wallace approved of a New York Post cover photograph of a supposedly angry Hillary Clinton labeled “No Wonder Bill’s Afraid,” which was heavily criticized as “blatantly sexist” and “offensive sexist garbage.” Wallace called the cover “funny” and asserted that “nice can be overrated sometimes.” With a history of comments like this, how will Wallace approach Trump’s dismissal of People reporter Natasha Stoynoff as too ugly for him to assault?
Wallace’s history of making sexist comments taint his ability to confront Trump over the vulgar video of the candidate boasting about sexually assaulting women and the increasing number of women accusing him of inappropriate sexual conduct. Although Trump denied that he had sexually assaulted women, the mounting accusations allege that his words were in line with the sexually predatory behavior he bragged about in the 2005 tapes.
Wallace’s role as debate moderator poses other challenges as well. Wallace changed his stance on fact-checking in debates (he says it’s not his role, even though he corrected Trump during a primary debate), and he has been wildly inconsistent in how he talks about immigration. Additionally, a Fox News host is hardly the most appropriate moderator for this debate given that Trump has retreated to the station as a safe space -- and avoided other press -- while his campaign implodes under the allegations of sexual harassment and assault.
Fox News’ Chris Wallace has selected “Debt and entitlements,” “Immigration,” “Economy,” “Supreme Court,” “Foreign hot spots,” and “Fitness to be President” as the topics for the final presidential debate, which he will moderate on October 19. But the fact that neither “the environment” nor “energy” are among the topics would not excuse Wallace if he fails to ask a question about climate change.
Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges facing our country and the planet, and it’s far more than strictly an environmental or energy issue. As Christine Todd Whitman, the former Republican Governor of New Jersey who ran the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush, has said, climate change “has very serious implications for our country from a national security point of view, from an economic point of view and a health point of view.”
The nonpartisan Open Debate Coalition recently launched a petition urging Wallace to ask the questions on the coalition’s website that have received the most votes from the public. A question about how the presidential candidates would address climate change currently has the fourth-most votes, trailing only two questions about guns and one about Social Security.
If Wallace refuses to ask Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump about climate change, it will mark the culmination of a stunning media failure. It would mean that presidential debate moderators failed to address climate change in two consecutive election cycles, after climate questions were asked in two presidential debates and the vice presidential debate in 2008. Even worse, it would mean that Trump avoids fielding a single debate question on climate change during the entire presidential campaign, spanning 14 primary and general election debates over the last 14 months.
Climate change has far-reaching impacts and ramifications, as Whitman explained, so there are many ways Wallace could weave it into most -- if not all -- of the topics he’s selected. Here are five questions that he could ask:
Possible Debate Question: Studies show that climate change worsened the extreme drought in Syria that contributed to the Syrian refugee crisis, and that the effects of climate change on crop yields will drive millions of Mexicans to seek entry into the United States in the coming decades. Will you incorporate climate change into your immigration policies, and if so, how?
Possible Debate Question: A 2016 survey of 750 top economists found that climate change is now the single greatest threat to the global economy. What will you do to protect our economy from the effects of climate change?
Topic: Supreme Court
Possible Debate Question: Following a 2007 Supreme Court ruling and a scientific assessment by the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA is legally required to regulate greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change under the Clean Air Act. Will you implement the Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of the EPA’s emissions reduction strategy, and if not, how will your administration fulfill the Supreme Court’s mandate to cut greenhouse gas pollution?
Topic: Foreign Hot Spots
Possible Debate Question: The Pentagon has determined that climate change will “aggravate existing problems -- such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions -- that threaten domestic stability in a number of countries.” To what extent do you believe climate-related risks should be integrated into military planning?
Topic: Fitness To Be President
Possible Debate Question: The scientific community is nearly unanimous in saying that global warming is happening and caused by burning fossil fuels, yet many politicians refuse to acknowledge this is the case. Will you listen to the scientists on climate change, and do you believe that those who refuse to do so are unfit for our nation’s highest office?
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CNN’s Jake Tapper was the only Sunday show host on September 25 to discuss a report that American intelligence officials are probing Russian government ties to a man Trump has identified as a foreign policy adviser, Carter Page. This latest revelation is yet another missed opportunity by the Sunday political talk shows to feature investigative stories about Trump and his campaign over the past month.
On September 23, Yahoo! News’ Michael Isikoff reported that “U.S. intelligence officials are seeking to determine whether an American businessman identified by Donald Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers has opened up private communications with senior Russian officials.” Among the problematic contacts Page has reportedly had with aides to Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is Igor Diveykin, who “is believed by U.S. officials to have responsibility for intelligence collected by Russian agencies about the U.S. election.” The article also quoted a Trump spokesperson calling Page an “‘informal foreign adviser’” to Trump.
In an interview with Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway on CNN’s State of the Union, Tapper cited the Yahoo! News article and questioned Conway if the campaign had talked to Page about his meetings with Russian officials. Conway denied that Page was part of the Trump campaign at this time and said that he was not authorized to talk to Russia on the campaign’s behalf.
The other Sunday hosts -- NBC’s Chuck Todd, CBS’ John Dickerson, Fox’s Chris Wallace, and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos -- who interviewed Trump adviser Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s running mate Mike Pence, and Conway, respectively -- all failed to question their Trump surrogate guests about the report. The only other mentions of the report on the Sunday shows were from Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s surrogates, with Clinton running mate Tim Kaine alluding to the “news of this past week [that] shows us a whole series of very serious questions about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia” on CBS’ Face the Nation, and Clinton’s press secretary Brian Fallon mentioning Page on CNN’s Reliable Sources.
The near blackout of this story from the Sunday shows is turning into a familiar pattern regarding investigative reports on Trump. Over the past month, the Sunday political talk shows have repeatedly failed to feature new reporting that reflects poorly on Trump. On September 4, just days after The Washington Post broke the story that Trump’s foundation illegally gave a political donation in 2013 and that Trump paid the IRS a penalty for it, only CBS’ Dickerson brought it up; on other shows, guests were forced to mention it. The next week, as they were all covering the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, every Sunday show completely ignored the New York Daily News’ investigation that revealed Trump unethically accepted $150,000 in government aid after the attacks and that Trump bragged that one of his buildings was now the largest in the area just hours after the 9/11 attacks. And just last week, the Sunday shows again mostly omitted new reporting on Trump, specifically the news that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was investigating Trump’s charitable foundation over concerns of impropriety and Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek report that detailed the “serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires” that would be present in the foreign policy of a President Trump due to his deep business ties to foreign countries and businesspeople.
The report on Page also follows Trump’s repeated praise of Putin, who he has called “highly respected within his own country and beyond,” later adding that if Putin “says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.” Journalists have slammed Trump for his remarks, noting the country has targeted and murdered journalists.
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Sunday morning political news programs neglected two major news stories that raise ethical questions about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s family charity and his business interests, including reports that Trump’s charitable foundation is under investigation by the New York Attorney General and the conflicts of interest the Trump Organization would raise in a Trump presidency.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a September 13 CNN interview that his office is investigating Trump’s charitable foundation over concerns that it “engaged in some impropriety” as related to New York charity laws. The investigation launched amid reports from The Washington Post that Trump spent money from his charity on items meant to benefit himself, such as a $20,000 oil painting of himself and a $12,000 autographed football helmet, and also recycled others’ contributions “to make them appear to have come from him” although he “hasn’t given to the foundation since 2008.”
In Newsweek’s September 23 cover story, Kurt Eichenwald reported that Trump’s business interests “will constantly jeopardize the security of the United States” if Trump wins the presidency and does not sever all connections to the Trump Organization. The Trump Organization, Eichenwald reported, has been “largely ignored” by media, yet would cause “serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires” in nearly all foreign policy decisions a president Trump would make. Eichenwald’s report explains that the Trump Organization’s enterprise includes “deep ties to global financiers, foreign politicians and even criminals,” and “reveals a web of contractual entanglements that could not be just canceled” which could conflict with major national security decisions and negotiations required by the presidential elect.
Yet none of the Sunday morning political news shows dedicated substantial coverage to either report on September 18.
NBC’s Meet The Press briefly alluded to reports that the Trump Organization could pose conflicts of interest without mentioning the Newsweek report directly. Host Chuck Todd asked Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway whether Trump would offer an “explanation of how he will wall off his business so that there are not even illusions or any sort of cloud that would hang over foreign policy decisions and his international business dealings.”
But ABC’s This Week, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox Broadcasting’s Fox News Sunday, and CBS’ Face the Nation all completely ignored the stories about Trump’s foundation and business empire, even though each featured interviews with Trump surrogates who could have been asked about them. Meet the Press did not reference Trump’s foundation.
Journalists have been criticized for the “double standard” in the ways they cover Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Earlier this month, cable news programs devoted 13 times more coverage to Clinton’s pneumonia diagnosis as The Washington Post’s reporting about the Trump Foundation. This week, both the Trump Foundation and Trump Organization stories were given short shrift by the broadcast news programs in favor of coverage of Donald Trump’s Dr. Oz stunt.
Media Matters conducted a SnapStream search for any coverage of both reports on Sunday morning political news shows including: ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face The Nation, NBC’s Meet The Press, Fox Broadcasting’s Fox News Sunday, and CNN’s State of the Union. The search was conducted using search terms “Newsweek,” “Eichenwald,” “Trump Organization,” “Fahrenthold,” “Trump Foundation,” “Trump Charity,” and “Charity.”
Flashback: Wallace Has Enabled The Lie Twice Before
Fox News’ Chris Wallace has previously failed to fact-check Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s brazen lie that he opposed the Iraq War, raising further concerns about how Wallace will moderate the third and final presidential debate.
Wallace has twice before let Trump lie about his opposition to the Iraq War -- a claim that has been proved false time and time again. On February 21, when Trump appeared on Wallace’s Fox News Sunday, Wallace let the candidate say he “was against” the Iraq War “at the beginning” while offering no pushback; and on March 13, Wallace again let Trump’s claim that he “was against the war in Iraq … I’m one that said don’t go in” go unchallenged.
Wallace’s complicity in enabling Trump’s lie is troubling given that he has been tapped as moderator for the final debate between Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and that he has said it’s not his “job to be a truth squad” when moderating. Trump took the news that Wallace wouldn’t fact-check the candidates during the debates well, telling Larry King, “I can understand him saying that. … I think that the candidates should police themselves.”
Wallace’s previous disregard for Trump’s recurrent lie is even more concerning given the conflict of interest tethered to Wallace’s role as a moderator. As Media Matters founder David Brock wrote to the Commission on Presidential Debates, former Fox CEO Roger Ailes’ position advising both Trump and Rupert Murdoch -- the head of Fox’s parent company and Wallace’s boss -- represents a “glaring conflict of interest” that infringes on the credibility of any Fox News moderator. Brock has asked the commission to reconsider Wallace as a moderator.
Given NBC host Matt Lauer’s heavily criticized, fact-challenged moderation during a national security forum -- where he, too, let Trump lie about his previous Iraq War stance -- it’s crucial that the debate moderators stamp out Trump’s mendacity and ensure a fact-based debate.
A Washington Post report that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 fine after his charitable foundation illegally gave a political contribution went mostly ignored by the cable and network Sunday political talk show hosts, with only CBS’ John Dickerson questioning a Trump surrogate about the story.
The September 1 Post article reported that the Donald J. Trump Foundation had “violated tax laws” with a $25,000 political contribution to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who at the time was deciding whether or not to take action against Trump University. The report also highlighted an error, “which had the effect of obscuring the political gift from the IRS.” According to the Post’s article, the Trump Foundation is still out of compliance because “under IRS rules, it appears that the Trump Foundation must seek to get the money back” from the group which should never have received it:
Donald Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty this year, an official at Trump's company said, after it was revealed that Trump's charitable foundation had violated tax laws by giving a political contribution to a campaign group connected to Florida's attorney general.
The improper donation, a $25,000 gift from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, was made in 2013. At the time, Attorney General Pam Bondi was considering whether to investigate fraud allegations against Trump University. She decided not to pursue the case.
Earlier this year, The Washington Post and a liberal watchdog group raised new questions about the three-year-old gift. The watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, filed a complaint with the IRS — noting that, as a registered nonprofit, the Trump Foundation was not allowed to make political donations.
The Post reported another error, which had the effect of obscuring the political gift from the IRS.
In that year's tax filings, The Post reported, the Trump Foundation did not notify the IRS of this political donation. Instead, Trump's foundation listed a donation — also for $25,000 — to a Kansas charity with a name similar to that of Bondi's political group. In fact, Trump's foundation had not given the Kansas group any money.
The prohibited gift was, in effect, replaced with an innocent-sounding but nonexistent donation.
With the breathless media hyping of every new detail about the Clinton Foundation, despite the lack of anything illegal occurring, one would think that the proof of lawbreaking by a charitable foundation founded and named for one of the two major party presidential nominees would attract significant attention from the media. But Face the Nation host John Dickerson was the only Sunday political talk show host to bring up the Post’s findings.
During his interview with Trump campaign surrogate Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), Dickerson cited the Post story to ask if it was an example of Trump knowing “how to use political donations to get the system to work for him” because in this situation Trump “gave the money then the investigation didn’t happen”:
JOHN DICKERSON (HOST): I want to ask you about a report in The Washington Post this week about Donald Trump's foundation paying a fine to the IRS for a $25,000 donation it had given to a political committee supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2013. She was looking into maybe investigating Trump University, ultimately didn't. Donald Trump has said he knew better than anybody how to use the system, how to use political donations to get the system to work for him. Is that an instance of that in that situation, gave the money then the investigation didn't happen?
ABC’s This Week guest host Martha Raddatz had a similar opportunity to question the Trump campaign about the story when speaking with campaign manager Kellyanne Conway during a 7 minute interview, but failed to bring it up. Fox News’ MediaBuzz and CNN’s Reliable Sources also both failed to even mention the news that Trump paid a fine for his foundation’s illegal act.
On the other Sunday shows where this story was mentioned, it was up to the guests to mention it, usually in the context of the media’s double standard in reporting on the Clinton Foundation and Clinton’s emails. When Center for American Progress president Neera Tanden said “we just learned this week that Donald Trump was engaged in a pay to play” with Florida’s attorney general, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace repeatedly interrupted her, before casting the story aside.
On NBC’s Meet the Press, MSNBC contributor Maria Teresa Kumar brought up the report, saying Trump “basically took his foundation money and actually wrote a check to a campaign. That is actually illegal, and he had to pay a fine.”
And on CNN’s State of the Union, commentator Bakari Sellers was the only one to even allude to the story, saying, “we know that Donald Trump actually had a foundation that was pay to play, and we’re back to [Clinton] emails.”
After a “dizzying” week of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump taking several different stances on his own immigration policy, media figures criticized Trump for the “continual confusion” surrounding the details of his immigration plan.