Getting the Candidates On Record, Part 1

Election coverage is notoriously spotty on what's usually referred to unappealingly as "the issues." In part, this is because comparing the candidates' records on policy specifics is a lot harder and duller than checking the latest poll numbers and writing another horse-race article. Everyone is ill served by such lazy journalism, but environmentalists are particularly bad off. While most candidates pay lip service to the importance of capping greenhouse gas emissions, the environment rarely appears in campaign ads or stump speeches. It's an issue political journalists need to force the candidates on, which they rarely do.

Now, with the Iowa caucuses fast approaching and both parties' nominations up in the air, it seems less and less likely that the press will devote the time and resources to finding out where the candidates stand on environmental issues. Fortunately, the subject hasn't gone entirely ignored so far, and there has been some reporting on the topic, from radio interviews to online special reports to newspaper articles, all ranging from the perfunctory to the comprehensive.

On the more cursory side of eco-coverage, several of the many, many debates among Republican and Democratic hopefuls have included questions about the environment. But as encouraging as that is, 30-second answers from a crowded primary field are unlikely to produce anything more than vague promises. Much more detailed and useful work has taken place online, where a few of the best resources exist for finding out just how green the candidates are., an environmental web venture published by Hearst, features a special section called “Green Your Vote 2008” that gives some basics on how each party and each candidate  stacks up on the environment. The site is "powered" by the League of Conservation Voters, a nonprofit dedicated to educating voters about their elected officials' positions and fighting for conservation legislation. They also have their own 2008 voter guide, with a handy chart of each presidential hopeful's positions.

The New York Times' website does them one better, not only listing what candidates say they would do about global warming, but also noting what action they've taken in the past. Most comprehensive of all might be's special campaign section, which includes detailed fact sheets on even the least likely of candidates. Even more impressive is the series of interviews Grist did with Outside magazine, in which they grilled presidential contenders one-on-one about the environment. 

Of course, mainstream print and broadcast media haven’t been entirely silent on the issue. Next post: a look at how much the traditional press has thrown its weight around to get answers on the earth's most burning questions.

To be continued…