The World Is Burning, but the Political Press Insists It’s a Horse Race

Now cover the climate This article is from “The Climate Beat”, the weekly newsletter of Now cover the climate, a global journalistic initiative that strengthens reporting on climate history.

L.Last week, viewers followed the largest conversation on climate change ever shown in a US presidential debate. NBC News host Kristen Welker first asked candidates what they would each do to fight climate change while supporting job growth – a welcome improvement on the questions in the first presidential and vice-presidential debate that absurdly framed climate change opinion. Welker then raised a sharp question about the disproportionate level of pollution of paint communities, the first environmental justice question to ever surface in a general election debate.

In response, Trump repeated falsehoods he had used in the past. For example, he claimed that wind power was “extremely expensive” and increased the cost of Biden’s $ 2 trillion climate plan by a factor of 50, while Biden described climate change as an “existential threat” to humanity “and how he is investing public money to build a clean energy economy and create jobs. Regarding Welker’s pollution issue, Trump rejected the premise, falsely saying that the communities she mentioned were being paid for their problems. Meanwhile, Biden gave an in-depth description of the negative health outcomes “Fenceline” communities routinely face. Despite the uneven back-and-forth, it was a refreshing, all-too-rare moment in U.S. media coverage of climate history: almost 12 minutes of prime time journalism treating climate change as a serious, multidimensional topic worthwhile public discourse.

And what did the political press do with this material in its post-reporting? Mostly fumbled.

Across all media, journalists resorted to horse races that ignored science and made false assumptions, particularly focusing on Biden’s promise to move from the oil industry to renewable energy. Following Trump’s leadership on the stage, post-debate coverage showed Biden’s position as economically risky and a political obligation. Welker’s own NBC news suggested that Biden’s comments “could be costly in battlefield states.” The Washington Post wondered “How politically harmful” Biden’s comments were; she called a second story “a stumbling block on the night of debate. “Even E&E News, a point of sale that focuses exclusively on energy and the environment, asked“Will Biden’s end oil promise conjure up Trump?”

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