Earth to Presidential Debate Moderators: “I’m Burning Up”


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A new petition asks presidential (and vice-presidential) debate moderators not to remain silent on climate, as they have in the pastThe petition, launched by RootsAction Education Fund (which I cofounded), is being delivered to the moderators of this fall’s four debates: Chris Wallace of Fox News, Susan Page of USA Today, Steve Scully of C-SPAN and Kristen Welker/NBC News.

The petition, which offers shocking history, reads in full:

In 2016, not a single question about global warming and the climate crisis was asked by mainstream media moderators in the four general election debates (three presidential and one vice-presidential). The term “climate change” was only uttered a few times, in passing, because Hillary Clinton brought it up.

In 2012, in the four general election debates, moderators asked no questions about climate change – and neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney (nor VP candidates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan) ever mentioned the issue.

In hours of debates in 2012 and 2016, there were zero questions on the climate crisis from moderators hand-picked by the two major parties.

In 2020, end your silence on this crucial issue! 

Yesterday, Fox’s Chris Wallace announced six topics for the first debate that he’ll moderate on Tuesday. Climate was not on the list.

The petition, which is still gathering signatures, is aimed at waking up this year’s debate moderators — because past moderators were asleep at the wheel on the climate catastrophea sleepiness that has long afflicted corporate news outlets heavily sponsored by fossil fuel companies.

At the least, one would hope this year’s moderators will probe Trump about his total rejection of climate science. But it would be refreshing to see them question Biden on whether his proposals – initially described as ‘middle ground’ — comport with the urgent timelines established by climate scientists.

One reason presidential debates are so disappointing is because questioners are not aggressive, independent journalists chosen by nonpartisan civic or educational groups. In the general election, moderators are basically chosen by the two major parties, hiding behind the fig leaf of a debate commission they set up and control.

Yesterday, the media watch group FAIR alerted members of the public to contact moderators directly and urge them “to make the climate crisis a key focus of the debates.”

With the horrific fires on the West Coast and hurricanes and storms pounding the Caribbean and Gulf Coast, in a healthy democracy, one would expect presidential candidates to be pressed hard about climate chaos. I’m not holding my breath. 

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Jeff Cohen is cofounder of RootsAction.org and RootsAction Education Funda retired journalism professor at Ithaca College, and author of “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.” In 1986, he founded the media watch group FAIR.  

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