Getting the Candidates on Record, Part 2

Last night, voters in Iowa cast the first votes in the 2008 presidential contest. But assuming that voters got most of their news from the mainstream media, they voted with almost no knowledge of where the candidates stand on the environment.

Informed primary voters can easily find detailed breakdowns and analysis of the presidential hopefuls' positions on global warming and other environmental issues if they look online. But the press establishment – particularly TV news – has done a significantly worse job pressing candidates on the issue.

The video below was put together by the League of Conservation Voters to draw attention to their petition asking political journalists to focus on green issues.


According to their report, Wolf Blitzer, Tim Russert, George Stephanopolous, Chris Wallace, and Bob Schieffer have asked the presidential candidates more than 2,200 questions over the last year. In the press release sent out by the group, the League says that only three of these questions involved the phrase "global warming" or "climate change." (Though 24 questions were "related to the issue," they say.)

As you might expect, newspapers did a better job than TV news. The New York Times, for example, ran a two-page voter guide this Sunday detailing where the candidates stand on a half dozen issues, including global warming. The Washington Post compiled a similar breakdown. Both papers, and many others, have run stories on individual proposals , but comprehensive evaluations were few and far between (there are, of course, exceptions, like the Wall Street Journal’s write-up on the three top-polling Democrats.)

According to Times climate reporter Andy Revkin, the problem is more fundamental than just the number of column inches devoted to the environment and the number of questions lobbed about the issue. The media isn't going to cover green topics when the public consistently ranks the issue as a much lower priority than the war in Iraq and kitchen-table domestic economy issues. What's needed – in addition to smart, creative journalism about the environment – is more basic science education and awareness. Writing about the League's survey of TV coverage, Revkin puts the problem almost as a chicken-and egg issue, smartly summarizing the problem of motivating viewers/voters:

    For the moment, the Sunday shows, quite naturally, still focus on the issues voters care most about (war, money, health, candidates’ eating habits, race, religion, likability, gender). Can they step out in front? Should they? Will it matter?