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Study: Of Over 2,000 Sunday Talk Show Questions to Candidates, Only Three on Global Warming

StoryJanuary 10, 2008
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A new study by the League of Conservation Voters found that the five major Sunday morning political shows asked the presidential candidates well over 2,000 questions in 2007. Just three of the questions mentioned global warming. We speak with the president of the League of Conservation Voters, Gene Karpinski. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Several of the country’s best-known TV journalists are coming under criticism for failing to question the presidential candidates about the crisis posed by global warming.

A new study by the League of Conservation Voters found that the five major Sunday morning political shows asked the presidential candidates [2,275] questions in 2007. Just three of the questions mentioned global warming. Another twenty-two questions were related to global warming.

In response, the League of Conservation Voters has launched a website, and produced this short video piece.

    NARRATOR: Five top political reporters.

    WOLF BLITZER: Wolf Blitzer.

    CHRIS WALLACE: Fox News in Washington.

    CBS ANNOUNCER: Correspondent Bob Schieffer.

    ABC ANNOUNCER: George Stephanopoulos.

    NBC ANNOUNCER: This is Meet the Press with Tim Russert.

    NARRATOR: More than 120 interviews with presidential candidates.

    CHRIS WALLACE: Senator Hillary Clinton.


    BOB SCHIEFFER: Mike Huckabee.

    TIM RUSSERT: Barack Obama.

    GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator John Edwards.

    CHRIS WALLACE: Rudy Giuliani.

    GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: … joins us from Santa Fe.

    NARRATOR: 2,275 questions.

    TIM RUSSERT: This is a serious, serious question.

    CHRIS WALLACE: Senator McCain, you ever see a UFO?

    TIM RUSSERT: Senator Gravel, Yankees-Red Sox?

    CHRIS WALLACE: Governor, we have a minute left, and I want to ask you about one other pressing question.

    TIM RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, what about a World Series, Yankees and Cubs?

    CHRIS WALLACE: … that he had seen a UFO at Shirley MacLaine’s home, and she says —-

    TIM RUSSERT: … which is run by Hugo Chavez.

    RUDY GIULIANI: Tim, that’s a stretch.

    TIM RUSSERT: … lost a considerable amount of weight.

    CHRIS WALLACE: I have a yellow lab named Winston.

    TIM RUSSERT: This is a serious, serious question.

    CHRIS WALLACE: What were you thinking?

    TIM RUSSERT: Did you see a UFO?

    WOLF BLITZER: Global warming this morning, ironically -— get this — it was cancelled because of the winter.

    CHRIS WALLACE: Well, that’s good to know.

    BOB SCHIEFFER: Perhaps Chuck Norris.

    GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You have a very cool style.

    WOLF BLITZER: Chuck Norris.

    GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: How much of that is tied to your race?

    TIM RUSSERT: There is life beyond earth, do you agree?

    SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Don’t make me speak.

    WOLF BLITZER: You’re lucky to have Chuck Norris in your corner.

    It’s on that note that diamonds and pearls…

    NARRATOR: 2,275 questions, how many mentioned global warming? Only three. Meanwhile, the world’s scientific community agrees that we’re running out of time. If there is no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is been a defining moment. Go to and sign the petition. Tell the reporters to focus on the human race, not the horse race.

AMY GOODMAN: According to the League of Conservation Voters, Tim Russert of NBC’s Meet the Press asked 755 questions to the candidates without mentioning global warming. George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s This Week didn’t mention those two words in any of his 726 questions to the candidates. Neither did Bob Schieffer of CBS’s Face the Nation.

According to the League of Conservation Voters, Wolf Blitzer of CNN and Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday were alone in mentioning global warming. Blitzer mentioned it once, Wallace twice.

Gene Karpinski joins us from Washington, president of the League of Conservation Voters. Welcome to Democracy Now!

GENE KARPINSKI: Good to be here, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you do the counts? 2,275 questions on the five major Sunday talk shows.

GENE KARPINSKI: That’s right. And again, that was about a month ago. We’re now over almost 2,700 questions with unfortunately the same result, which is only three questions mention global warming, and twenty-four are global warming-related.

We literally sat down and read the transcripts of every Sunday morning talk show and every debate that one of these five TV journalists was associated with and went through and looked for the words and looked for the related questions. And that’s what we came up with.

It was a painstaking process — and a painful result, quite frankly, because the candidates, as you know, Amy, are talking about this issue every day. Many of them have made it a top priority, which is great news. It’s the first time ever that many of the candidates have had aggressive comprehensive plans to address the problem. And they’re not just having it on their website, they’re talking about it every day.

But the embarrassing part and the sad part is that the leading TV journalists have failed to ask candidates questions to see how much it’s a priority, to make articulate the differences, to challenge the candidates how much this will be a priority. Those are the tough questions we need to be asked by the TV journalists, rather than questions about baseball and UFOs and things like that.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to the Republican debate in Iowa on December 12th. This is what happened when the moderator, Carolyn Washburn of the Des Moines Register, raised the issue of global warming.

    CAROLYN WASHBURN: I would like to see a show of hands. How many of you believe global climate change is a serious threat and caused by human activity?

    FRED THOMPSON: I’m not doing that. I’m not doing hand shows today.

    CAROLYN WASHBURN: No hand shows?

    FRED THOMPSON: No hand shows.

    MITT ROMNEY: I’m with him.

    CAROLYN WASHBURN: And so, does that mean — is that yes or no for you? Do you believe that global climate change is a serious threat and caused by human activity?

    FRED THOMPSON: Well, do you want to give me a minute to answer that?

    CAROLYN WASHBURN: No, I don’t.

    FRED THOMPSON: Well, then I’m not going to answer it.


    MITT ROMNEY: How about thirty seconds?

    CAROLYN WASHBURN: No. You know, I want you to —

    FRED THOMPSON: You want a show of hands. I’m not giving it to you.

    CAROLYN WASHBURN: We’re going to follow up on that, but what I need to know is who believes global climate change is serious and caused by human activity.

    UNIDENTIFIED: Serious?


    CAROLYN WASHBURN: And then we’ll talk in more detail about it.

    UNIDENTIFIED: Serious?

    UNIDENTIFIED: I believe that global climate change is a serious —

    SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I think that climate change is real, and I’ve been involved —

    UNIDENTIFIED: Let’s have a chance to talk about it.

    CAROLYN WASHBURN: I’m going to start with Senator McCain and come back to Mayor Giuliani.

    SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I’ve been involved in this issue since the year 2000. I have had hearings. I’ve traveled the world. I know that climate change is real. But let me put it to you this way. Suppose that climate change is not real and all we do is adopt green technologies, which our economy and our technology is perfectly capable of. Then all we’ve done is given our kids a cleaner world.

    But suppose they are wrong. Suppose they are wrong and climate change is real and we’ve done nothing. What kind of a planet are we going to pass on to the next generation of Americans? It’s real, we’ve got to address it, we can do it with technology, with cap and trade, with capitalist and free enterprise motivation. And I’m confident that we can pass on to our children and grandchildren a cleaner, better world.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Republican debate. Gene Karpinski, the stance of the Republicans on climate change?

GENE KARPINSKI: First of all, congratulations to that question there from the Des Moines Register, because she did put the question to the candidate, and that’s important.

On the Republican side, clearly John McCain stands head and shoulders above the other Republican candidates in his concern about global warming. He has been a champion on this issue in the Senate for many years, and he’s raised it as a top priority on the campaign trail. In fact, when you look at his win in New Hampshire on Tuesday, clearly that came from independent voters, primarily. And Senator McCain, in his town hall meetings — he had over a hundred — regularly talked about global warming as a top priority. There were citizens at virtually all those events asking him questions about global warming. He talked about it. He’s articulate about it. He shows he cares about it, and he made it clear it was a top priority. And that’s very important. So Kudos to the questioner and kudos to Senator McCain, in particular, on the Republican side.

The only other Republican candidate who has been willing to support a mandatory cap on emissions, which is what we need, is Governor Huckabee. He has not been as specific as Senator McCain. He has not talked about it as much on the campaign trail, but at least he’s indicated support for a mandatory increase in fuel economy and a mandatory cap on emissions.

The rest of the Republican candidates, unfortunately, seem to be following the George Bush approach, which is, yes, we’ll acknowledge there’s a problem, but we’re not going to do anything serious to address it. And that just won’t work.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what about the level of questioning in the overall debates — I know you haven’t done the same kind of study, but there have been many debates — on the issues of global warming to any, either Democratic or Republican candidates?

GENE KARPINSKI: Sure. Well, the good news is there actually — for the first time ever, there have been questions on global warming overall. We’re now up to about seventeen, eighteen questions that actually talk about global warming-related issues.

You know, the debate that had the most questions about global warming — interesting — was the Democratic debate hosted by YouTube, where you had the famous snowman. And there were three questions on global warming in that debate. So when the questions came from citizens, we had the most questions on the issue.

So that — and again, Charles Gibson on Saturday night in the Democrat debate asked a very direct important question on global warming. We were quick to praise him, because that’s the kind of conversation we need to have more often.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to that clip: ABC’s Charles Gibson raising global warming during Saturday’s debate in New Hampshire. His question was first directed to New Mexican Governor Bill Richardson.

    CHARLES GIBSON: You invoked the name of Al Gore a few moments ago. Reversing or slowing global warming is going to take sacrifice. I’m sort of sorry Chris Dodd isn’t here, because he’s talked a lot about a carbon tax in this election. Al Gore favors a carbon tax. None of you have favored a carbon tax. Is it a bad idea, or is it just so politically unpalatable that you guys don’t want to propose it?

    GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Can I answer? You know, I was Energy Secretary. It’s a bad idea, because when you have a carbon tax, first of all, it’s not a mandate. What you want is a mandate on polluters, on coal companies, on those that pollute, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a certain target — under my plan, 30% by the year 2020, 80% by the year 2040. It takes international leadership.

    CHARLES GIBSON: Senator Obama?

    SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, I agree with Bill that I think a cap-and-trade system makes more sense. That’s why I proposed it, because you can be very specific in terms of how we’re going to reduce the greenhouse gases by a particular level.

    Now, what you have to do is you have to combine it with a 100% auction. In other words, every little bit of pollution that is sent up into the atmosphere, that polluter is getting charged for it. Not only does that ensure that they don’t game the system, but you’re also generating billions of dollars that can be invested in solar and wind and biodiesel.

    SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: What we’ve got to do is use energy as an opportunity to actually jumpstart economic recovery. We need to quickly move toward energy efficiency. We should require the utilities to begin to work for energy efficiency and conservation, costs that will be shared and decrease the pressure on families. We need a weatherization and low-income heating emergency program that is out there now helping families in New Hampshire and elsewhere to cover their costs.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That was the Democratic debate Saturday in New Hampshire. Gene Karpinski, what about the Democratic candidates and their various stands on global warming?

GENE KARPINSKI: A couple key points — and again, we recently released a voter guide, which you can see at, which has all the candidates on a set of issues, but primarily focused on the issues of global warming and climate change and the related issue of energy independence.

Two key points about the Democrats. One is that they have now all articulated comprehensive, aggressive plans to deal with the problem, the most comprehensive, most aggressive plans we’ve ever seen, quite frankly, in a presidential race. In fact, if you take the specific issue of how much we need to reduce pollution, the scientists say we need to reduce it by 80% by 2050. A year ago, only one candidate was publicly on record on the Democratic side in favor of that. Now they all are. And that’s because the citizens in the early voting states have regularly been asking the candidates where they stand, and they’ve all now been very specific in an aggressive position of 80% pollution reduction by 2050. So that’s the first good point.

Second point is, it’s not just a policy on their website or a speech they gave one day. Regularly, the leading — all the leading Democratic candidates make this issue a top priority that they talk about with the voters every day. And when they are ask them what are their priorities, they always articulate this as one of the top issues, the related issues of energy and global warming.

A couple points —- Senator Obama mentioned the 100% auction. That is, rather than give away the rights to pollute, you auction those permits and therefore take the resources to use for good government purposes, to rebate the consumers, to promote green technologies. That idea wasn’t on the screen of any of the presidential candidates a year ago, but now it’s a key talking point. So a lot of good progress on the Democratic side, both in terms of having comprehensive, aggressive plans, but just as importantly, not just having it on a website, on their campaign site, but much more importantly, having it as part of the conversation with voters every day.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But are there any -—

GENE KARPINSKI: The bottom line is, we need the next president who comes to the White House to come in with a mandate to make this a priority and to take action on day one.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But are there any significant differences that your organization notes among the Democrats?

GENE KARPINSKI: Well, you know, a couple things over the course of the year. One is that we gave credit to Senator Edwards for being the first out of the box, back in March of last year, with an aggressive comprehensive plan. So he kind of really set the table and was the first out of the box with an aggressive plan. Governor Richardson, who actually, I think, is getting out of the race today, he actually has had the most aggressive timetables and goals in terms of how much pollution we need to reduce. But broadly speaking, they’re all very aggressive, they’re all very comprehensive. Those are a couple differences, but most importantly, they’re all comprehensive and all aggressive.

AMY GOODMAN: You don’t usually hear these candidates naming names like John Edwards talking about ExxonMobil, one of the most powerful corporations in the world.

GENE KARPINSKI: That’s correct. And again, Senator Edwards has been very aggressive. He was the first to put a comprehensive plan on the table. He talks about it as a priority all the time, and he talks about what’s needed to done — what’s going to be needed to be done to make a difference on this issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, what do think is the most important solution that no candidate is willing to endorse?

GENE KARPINSKI: Well, you know, really, the most important solution is to do what the science tells us to do, which is a mandatory cap that requires pollution reductions of certain amounts by certain dates. And really, the candidate — you know, again, the Democratic candidates have gotten there. Senator McCain’s comprehensive plan is comprehensive. His goals, in terms of reductions, are not quite as aggressive.

So I think that’s — I think the key part that we need to see when someone gets in the White House is, will this be a leadership issue then, as well? So far, again, we’re very encouraged, on the Republican side with Senator McCain and on the Democratic side with all the leading candidates, that this is a priority. The biggest challenge and the biggest thing we need to continue — that the voters need to continue to watch is to make sure this continues to be a key part of the conversation, so that there’s clearly a mandate, so that on day one this is a top priority, because that’s what the world needs.

AMY GOODMAN: Gene Karpinski, we thank you for being with us, president of the League of Conservation Voters.


AMY GOODMAN: We’ll link to his website.

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