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Political journalism in America – dying, with the tawdry election “debate”

USA election 2016Commentary: Debates pitch climate change shutout. A few decades from now, when the realities of climate change have hushed even the loudest, densest deniers, we may look back on October 2016 as the month political journalism died. Environmental Health News, October 19, 2016 Peter Dykstra

 On Wednesday evening during the final presidential debate of the campaign, Hell did not freeze over.  Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News, where climate denial plays nothing but home games, passed on the final opportunity to ask Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton about climate change.

This presidential campaign has been a catastrophe for American democracy and for American political journalism.

Amid the relentlessly tawdry campaign news, most Americans haven’t even noticed the absence of virtually any high-level campaign discussion of environmental issues, let alone what many have called the biggest challenge of the 21st century.

For now.

But I invite you to think ahead to that “oh-crap” moment that awaits us all, 5, 10, or 25 years from now when America looks back to reckon with our self-imposed climate silence in the debates.

Journalism —and the memes of our day— have failed us……..

Debate decline

Aside from the “Town Hall” debates—where carefully selected members of the public get to ask questions—you have to go back to 1992 to find a non-TV journalist doing the interrogating at a presidential debate. That was the last election year in which a panel of reporters posed questions to the candidates. Perhaps print journalists don’t fare as well on TV, but it could also be argued that TV journalists don’t always fare well with journalism.

Since then, every journalist’s debate question has come from a network TV anchor or political correspondent.  That’s six election cycles, 18 presidential debates where every question came from a well-compensated news celebrity based in New York or Washington. They conduct the debates under the auspices of a non-partisan commission that’s currently led by former Republican National Committee Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf and Mike McCurry, Bill Clinton’s former Press Secretary. If that’s not an inside job, I don’t know what is……..

For the record, the last, and one of only two, climate change questions ever posed by a journalist at a presidential debate was October 15, 2008.  Bob Schieffer of CBS asked about “energy and climate control.”  Props to Senator John McCain for gently correcting the moderator and realizing that the question was not about commercial property storage facilities.  Then both he and Senator Barack Obama pretty much ducked the climate part of the question and talked about reducing foreign oil imports.

This year’s second debate offered prime evidence of how easily we’re distracted by bright, shiny objects…….

Our nation is already paying. A few decades from now, when the realities of climate change have hushed even the loudest, densest deniers, we may look back on October 2016 as the month political journalism died because we couldn’t bring ourselves to have a serious national conversation on topics that affect our lives.   For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Brian Bienkowski at bbienkowski@e


October 24, 2016 - Posted by | USA elections 2016

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