The PBS moderators of last night's Democratic presidential primary debate never uttered the words "climate change." But Senator Bernie Sanders did.
As we have progressed through the primary debate season, this has happened again and again. The media figures hosting the debates keep failing to bring up climate change, so the Democratic candidates for president are taking matters of our planet's future into their own hands.
According to a Media Matters analysis of Democratic debate transcripts, Senator Sanders, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic candidates who are no longer in the race have thus far brought up climate change on their own 17 times combined, proactively addressing climate change in their opening or closing statements, or connecting climate change to a question they were asked on another topic. That's more than twice as often as the moderators of the debates, who have only asked seven questions about climate change to the Democratic candidates so far.
Here are the 17 times that Democratic presidential candidates brought up climate change on their own:
And here are the 7 questions that debate moderators managed to ask the Democratic candidates about climate change, some of which misrepresented the issue or downplayed its importance:
Denise Robbins assisted with the research for this analysis.
Fox News levied a series of complaints and attacks against a Black History Month video by the African American Policy Forum that portrays the barriers of institutional and historical anti-black racism. Fox ignored the substance of the video, which was shown to students at a Virginia high school, and instead focused on complaints that the video is "trying to make students feel guilty for being white." Fox's diatribe against the video underscores a long-standing pattern of shortsighted race coverage at Fox and in mainstream media.
The Washington Post's media writer Erik Wemple and Climate Desk's Tim McDonnell observed that debate moderators have thus far failed to adequately address climate change in the presidential debates, and urged them to ask more -- and better -- questions about the issue.
In a February 10 blog post on washingtonpost.com, Wemple stated that debate moderators "have had plenty of data to pose strong questions to candidates regarding climate change," including the Pentagon issuing "a study identifying climate change as a national-security problem," a determination that "could well have informed a number of sizzling questions from the leading lights of broadcast journalism regarding climate change." Instead, Wemple noted, the "little substance" that moderators have provided on climate change through the first twenty presidential debates "show how easily journalists get sidetracked by frivolities in their quest to hold politicians accountable."
Wemple examined several flawed questions from previous debates that "failed to yield an extended discussion of climate change," and suggested that PBS, which is hosting a Democratic presidential debate tonight, "follow the example" of a graduate student from Arizona State University who managed to provoke a through discussion of the topic:
For tips on how to phrase a simple and consequential question, the PBS-ers may want to follow the example of an outsider. During the Oct. 13 CNN Democratic debate, Arizona State University graduate student Anna Bettis of Tempe, Ariz., asked via video, "As a young person, I'm very concerned about climate change and how it will affect my future. As a presidential candidate, what will you do to address climate change?" An extensive discussion of the topic followed.
Easily done, right?
Not right, to judge from other attempts by full-time journalists to poke at this topic.
McDonnell, who is Climate Desk's Associate Producer, similarly criticized debate moderators in a February 11 article for Mother Jones, stating that the debates "so far have tended more toward theater of the absurd than substantive policy issues," and "climate change has barely surfaced." McDonnell argued that "[t]he moderators need to dig much deeper" in order to provide "a clearer view of how the different candidates would (or wouldn't) confront global warming."
In order to "help out the moderators," McDonnell reached out to climate scientists, environmentalists, academics, economic and defense experts, a former Republican congressman and even actor Mark Ruffalo to provide some ideas for questions to ask the candidates. You can see the list of potential questions that McDonnell compiled here.
From Mother Jones:
The moderators need to dig much deeper. The Pentagon has identified climate change as a major national security threat; cities and states are investing in clean energy and protection from extreme weather; and President Barack Obama will soon officially sign the global climate deal reached in Paris.
"It's amazing when you think of the infrastructure and other changes we're gonna see, that people are not asking hard questions about 'What is your plan to address emissions, and prepare for the changes?,'" says Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center.
Across all nightly network broadcasts, PBS has consistently provided the most coverage of the crisis of money in politics and campaign finance reform over the last 16 months. During Thursday night's debate, PBS can continue its much-needed emphasis on the issue by asking the candidates what steps they will take to address money in politics if elected president.
A Media Matters study of network evening news found that the evening news has failed to report that 1 million low income Americans are at risk of having their food assistance benefits severely restricted following 22 states' reinstatement of work requirements as a condition of eligibility on January 1. While the cuts are aimed at able body adults with no dependents, experts agree these individuals are "very poor" and qualify for very few alternative means of assistance.
On the sixth anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, PBS remains the gold standard for coverage of campaign finance reform while other broadcast networks show room for improvement, according to a Media Matters review of their evening and Sunday news shows over the past 16 months. While coverage of the subject has increased across the board, with CBS in particular showing a substantial increase, a sizable fraction of the increase is due to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) raising the issue in interviews on Sunday programs, rather than proactive efforts by journalists to cover campaign finance reform.
In recent months, media investigations have revealed that Exxon Mobil peddled climate science denial for years after its scientists recognized that burning fossil fuels causes global warming, prompting New York's Attorney General to issue a subpoena to Exxon and all three Democratic presidential candidates to call for a federal probe of the company. But despite these developments, the nightly news programs of all three major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- have failed to air a single segment addressing the evidence that Exxon knowingly deceived its shareholders and the public about climate change.
Since the start of the 2016 presidential election season, CBS and PBS have dedicated more coverage of the issues surrounding the crisis of money in politics and campaign finance than any other broadcast network, while MSNBC led in the coverage among cable news outlets. Despite polls showing Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of the post-Citizens United campaign finance landscape, most news outlets still provide little coverage of the current impact of money in politics and possibilities for reform.
Broadcast evening news programs were once again virtually silent on congressional Republicans' attempt to restrict women's access to reproductive health care by pushing an extreme 20-week ban through the Senate. The same outlets ignored a GOP-controlled House vote on a similar bill in May.
Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) criticized the "lack of news coverage" of a House bill that would ban labeling requirements for genetically modified foods, in a statement to Media Matters.
Responding to Media Matters' July 24 analysis of coverage by network and cable news programs, Rep. Conyers said that "[p]eople deserve to know what's in their food" but that a lack of media attention means "most Americans have been denied basic information about the debate in Congress." Conyers added, "It's time for our nation's major news organizations to shine light on sweeping changes to our food system."
Conyers' full statement read:
HR 1599 is an unprecedented corporate power-grab, which would not only stop the Food and Drug Administration and states from labeling GMOs but also block many state and local efforts to protect farmers and the public from threats including pesticide drift. People deserve to know what's in their food. More than 90% of Americans want GMO labelling according to recent polling. Sadly -- due to a lack of news coverage about HR 1599 -- most Americans have been denied basic information about the debate in Congress. It's time for our nation's major news organizations to shine light on sweeping changes to our food system.
H.R. 1599, which passed the House on July 23 and now heads to the Senate, would block states and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from labeling foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMO), and allow food companies to describe products containing GMO ingredients as "natural." Environmental and consumer rights organizations have denounced the bill because it would keep consumers in the dark when a vast majority of Americans support the right to know whether their food contains GMOs.
In recent weeks, major broadcast networks and primetime cable news programs have completely ignored debate and passage of a House bill that would prevent states and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from requiring labels for foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Consumer rights advocates, environmental groups, and the vast majority of Americans support the right to know whether foods contain GMOs.
A coalition of 18 groups that advocate for campaign finance reform are calling on broadcast media outlets to devote more coverage to America's broken campaign finance system and the need for reforms, especially as some estimates suggest that spending for the 2016 presidential election could top $10 billion.
On June 4, the groups sent a letter to the heads of the major news networks, calling on them to "take greater action in the future to ensure that Sunday political talk shows and nightly news devote appropriate attention to campaign finance reform." The letter, which was sent to Fox News, CBS News, NBC News, ABC News, and PBS, comes after a series of Media Matters analyses indicated that the crisis of big money in politics -- an issue that is of deep concern to a bipartisan majority of Americans -- was rarely covered by these networks.
The letter went on to explain that increased coverage of money in politics is crucial in the run-up to the 2016 election because of the influx of "dark money," secretive funds given to political nonprofits and super PACs by undisclosed donors. As the groups explained in their letter, dark money "runs counter to American values of accountability and transparency that give voters the information they need to make informed decisions," and substantive coverage of its outsized influence on the democratic process is more important than ever:
Although there have been several major campaign finance stories this year, so far the media has paid significant attention only to one: the retired postal worker from Florida who landed his gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn to raise awareness about the need for reform -- and the coverage has barely noted his motivations.
On April 15, Doug Hughes landed his gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn "to save our democracy," as he wrote in The Washington Post, because "91 percent of Americans see the corrosive influence of money in our political system as a problem that demands attention." Hughes continued:
It is clear these issues will be among the most important in the 2016 election, when every candidate for any office needs to answer one simple question: Which approaches to reducing money's corrupting influence on our democracy do you support? Journalists, especially at the local level, need to ask tough questions, then report the truth and let people decide.
Sadly, most Americans don't know about [campaign finance reform] solutions or how to engage. That's why I chose civil disobedience, taking 535 stamped letters and my message to the seat of power where the problem is. Big money is a threat to our democracy just as security threats are.
Hughes is right -- according to Bloomberg, "spending by candidates, parties and outside groups and individuals" in the run-up to the 2016 election "may approach $10 billion." Thanks to a series of Supreme Court decisions that have relaxed Watergate-era campaign finance reform laws, it's easier than ever for an elite few to exercise disproportionate influence in the democratic process.
Hughes' landing was marginally successful in getting some media coverage of campaign finance reform in the days following. A Media Matters analysis of the network evening news broadcasts and the Sunday political talk shows found 17 total segments dedicated to Hughes and the gyrocopter landing. But other than a discussion on the April 19 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, none of the Sunday shows or evening news broadcasts dedicated any substantive coverage to the message behind Hughes' protest. Understandably, most of these segments focused on the security issues raised by the fact that Hughes was able to fly undetected into the District of Columbia's no-fly zone, rather than his reasons for his flight in the first place.
Broadcast evening news programs have been virtually silent on Congressional Republicans' repeated efforts to restrict women's access to reproductive health care by pushing an extreme 20-week ban on abortion.
House Republicans voted this week to ban the majority of abortions after 20 weeks. As The New York Times reported, the legislation is a new "version of a bill that Republican leaders had abruptly pulled in January amid objections from some of their own members" over a provision "that would have required women who became pregnant through rape to report their assault to law enforcement authorities" in order to gain an exemption from the ban.
Such legislation would have dangerous implications for women's health should it become law, as many serious health conditions for both mothers and fetuses cannot be discovered until around the 20th week of pregnancy. The latest version of the legislation requires sexual assault survivors to attend counseling 48 hours prior to receiving an abortion, a requirement that, as ThinkProgress noted, "appears to closely resemble the mandatory counseling and waiting period requirements that are already popular on the state level" which have been roundly criticized by health experts and medical professionals for being unnecessary and harmful to women.
Yet broadcast evening news programs have been all but silent in covering the Republicans' abortion ban.
According to a Media Matters review of ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS' nightly news programs since January 1, ABC's World News Tonight and NBC's Nightly News have completely ignored the legislation, while CBS Evening News ran one segment highlighting the GOP proposal on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. PBS' Newshour devoted four segments to the legislation this year, and was the only network to cover the House's passage of the latest abortion ban.
The virtual silence of the broadcast evening news comes amid an unprecedented push by Republicans at both the national and state level to restrict women's constitutional right to abortion. An April 2 report from the Guttmacher Institute found that the first few months of 2015 have seen 332 provisions to restrict access to abortion introduced in the legislatures of nearly every state.
Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS evening news programs from January 1 to April 13, 2015 for the terms "abort!" or "reproduct!" We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the keywords.
Broadcast nightly news programs have remained silent on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) over the past three months of weekday programming, even as Congress is scheduled to vote this week on whether to grant President Obama authority to finalize the terms of the massive trade deal. The coverage blackout continues a trend extending back to 2013.
On May 12, the Senate plans to vote on legislation that would grant "fast-track" trade promotion authority to Obama as he attempts to complete negotiations among the 12 member nations that comprise the TPP. "Once Congress grants a president trade promotion authority, lawmakers have the ability to vote up or down on a final trade agreement, but they forfeit the right to amend the deal or filibuster it," The New York Times explained.
Debates over the merits of the deal itself and of granting the president trade promotion authority have erupted among Democratic and Republican members of Congress, but coverage of the negotiations has been largely absent from evening news programming on the major broadcast networks.
A Media Matters analysis of ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC's Nightly News from August 1, 2013, through May 10, 2015, found that the programs completely ignored the trade negotiations and related policy debates. Only PBS NewsHour devoted substantive coverage to the TPP, with 14 total segments:
Coverage of the TPP among major cable outlets has been similarly one-sided. Since August 1, 2013, MSNBC has mentioned the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 124 evening and primetime segments, the overwhelming majority of which (103) came during The Ed Show. Fox News trails far behind with just 12 mentions of the TPP over that time period, 10 of which have come since February 1, 2015. CNN has been almost completely absent from the discussion, registering only 2 mentions of the trade negotiations: