Media coverage of the debt ceiling frequently claims that raising the limit without simultaneous spending cuts would give President Obama a "blank check," repeating a pattern of promoting this false narrative -- or failing to correct it -- that occurred during the unprecedented brinkmanship of 2011. The phrase implies that the debt ceiling governs additional spending desired by the White House, when in fact it is a restriction on the executive branch's ability to borrow money to pay for spending measures already enacted by Congress.
Despite hundreds of thousands of petitions asking for a question on climate change, former PBS NewsHour host Jim Lehrer did not ask the candidates what they would do to address manmade global warming as moderator of the first presidential debate. Even more stunning, Lehrer did not ask a single question about the environment or energy issues.
Lehrer, who currently serves as NewsHour's executive editor, said at the outset of the debate that he wanted to focus on "specifics." Yet while both President Obama and Mitt Romney brought up energy issues frequently, the moderator never pressed them on distortions made on these issues. And neither Lehrer nor the candidates raised climate change, which was discussed in each of the last three sets of presidential debates. In both 2000 and in 2008, the debates featured specific questions on climate change, and Republican and Democratic candidates each acknowledged the issue.
Last week, groups including the League of Conservation Voters, Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation delivered more than 160,000 petitions to Lehrer urging him to ask Obama and Romney "how they will confront the greatest challenge of our generation -- climate change."
Their calls came amid increasing criticism of Obama and Romney for remaining largely silent on climate change, even as polling shows that a majority of undecided voters will weigh candidates' climate positions when they cast their ballots.
Just last month, NewsHour drew fire for turning to climate change contrarian Anthony Watts, a meteorologist, as a counterpoint to the scientific consensus on climate change. NewsHour did not disclose Watts' connection to the Heartland Institute, which is partly funded by corporations with an interest in obscuring climate science. Soon after, PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler acknowledged that the segment "was not the PBS NewsHour's finest 10 minutes" and said he found it "stunning" that Watts had been picked instead of "a university-accredited scientist to provide 'balance.'" But it remained to be seen whether PBS would re-commit itself to informing its audience and holding politicians accountable for the problems of the day. Tonight's debate indicated that PBS has not taken the criticism it has received seriously. Indeed, shortly after closing remarks, Watts gloated on his blog that climate was not mentioned.
Last night, PBS NewsHour turned to meteorologist and climate change contrarian Anthony Watts to "counterbalance" the mainstream scientific opinions presented by the program. This false balance is a disservice to PBS' viewers, made worse by the program's failure to explain Watts' connection to the Heartland Institute, an organization that receives funding from some corporations with a financial interest in confusing the public on climate science.
While PBS mentioned that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that manmade global warming is occurring, it did not reflect this consensus by giving significant airtime to Watts' contrarian views. The segment presented Watts as the counterbalance to scientists that believe in manmade global warming -- every time a statement that reflects the scientific consensus was aired, in came Watts to cast doubt in viewers' minds. As 66 percent of Americans incorrectly think that "there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening," news organizations need to be careful not to contribute to this confusion.
The segment focused on the findings of physicist Richard Muller, who was previously skeptical of climate science, and decided to embark on a study to re-examine the data. Muller's work was partially funded by the Koch Brothers, who fund climate contrarian groups like the Heartland Institute, and he collaborated with Watts to address his concerns about the reliability of the temperature record. Watts stated at the time, "I'm prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong." But after Muller reconfirmed the surface temperature record that has been constructed by several scientific groups and is consistent with satellite temperature records, Watts continued to dispute it. Yet in the full interview with Watts that PBS posted online, reporter Spencer Michels did not challenge Watts once, instead asking questions like, "What's the thing that bothers you the most about people who say there's lots of global warming?"
In the online report, Michels revealed that he got in contact with Watts through the Heartland Institute -- which he failed to mention on-air. Segments like this one on PBS are the very goal of groups like the Heartland Institute, as the New York Times' Andrew Revkin explained:
The norm of journalistic balance has been exploited by opponents of emissions curbs. Starting in the late 1990s, big companies whose profits were tied to fossil fuels recognized they could use this journalistic practice to amplify the inherent uncertainties in climate projections and thus potentially delay cuts in emissions from burning those fuels. Perhaps the most glaring evidence of this strategy was a long memo written by Joe Walker, who worked in public relations at the American Petroleum Industry, that surfaced in 1998. According to this ''Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan,'' first revealed by my colleague John Cushman at the New York Times, ''Victory will be achieved when uncertainties in climate science become part of the conventional wisdom'' for ''average citizens'' and ''the media'' (Cushman 1998). The action plan called for scientists to be recruited, be given media training, highlight the questions about climate, and downplay evidence pointing to dangers. Since then, industry-funded groups have used the media's tradition of quoting people with competing views to convey a state of confusion even as consensus on warming has built.
In addition to being promoted by Heartland, Watts was paid by the Heartland Institute for his work on temperature stations. Yet PBS left out that fact, even as it aired Watts suggesting that 97 percent of climate scientists are lying in order to be paid by the allegedly lucrative global warming "business":
From the February 11 edition of PBS' NewsHour:
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From the November 4 edition of PBS' The Newshour:
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In reports on the confirmation hearings of Sonia Sotomayor, numerous media outlets quoted Sen. Jeff Sessions' assertion that he would not vote for a justice who would rely on personal experience to decide cases. But Sessions voted to confirm Samuel Alito, who highlighted the importance of his personal experience during his hearing.
New York Times columnist David Brooks asserted of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin: "She's evangelical, but she's pretty progressive on gay and lesbian issues. She's for drilling in ANWR [Arctic National Wildlife Refuge], but she talks about global warming quite a lot." But Palin has reportedly said of global warming, "I'm not one though who would attribute it to being man-made," a position at odds with findings by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; she has also reportedly opposed giving spousal benefits to same-sex partners of public employees.
On The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Mark Shields asserted that Sen. John McCain "emphasized a lot of places of disagreement" with President Bush during his March 26 foreign policy speech, including "the sense of communality and collegiality among nations, reaching to the allies." But neither Shields nor the others in the discussion noted any of the highly critical statements McCain made about U.S. allies who opposed the Iraq war.
PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer hosted a segment on grassroots groups seeking to influence Iraq policy that included conservative radio host and Move America Forward chairman Melanie Morgan, whose history of false, misleading and unsubstantiated claims regarding the Iraq war went unmentioned during the segment, as did her numerous smears.
In recent interviews with President Bush, Jim Lehrer and Scott Pelley did not challenge several false or misleading claims that President Bush made about Iraq.