Media Matters

Despite hundreds of thousands of petitions asking for a question on climate change, former PBS NewsHour host Jim Lehrer did not ask the candidates what they would do to address manmade global warming as moderator of the first presidential debate. Even more stunning, Lehrer did not ask a single question about the environment or energy issues.

Lehrer, who currently serves as NewsHour‘s executive editor, said at the outset of the debate that he wanted to focus on “specifics.” Yet while both President Obama and Mitt Romney brought up energy issues frequently, the moderator never pressed them on distortions made on these issues. And neither Lehrer nor the candidates raised climate change, which was discussed in each of the last three sets of presidential debates. In both 2000 and in 2008, the debates featured specific questions on climate change, and Republican and Democratic candidates each acknowledged the issue.

Last week, groups including the Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation and League of Conservation Voters delivered more than 160,000 petitions to Lehrer urging him to ask Obama and Romney “how they will confront the greatest challenge of our generation—climate change.”

Their calls came amid increasing criticism of Obama and Romney for remaining largely silent on climate change, even as polling shows that a majority of undecided voters will weigh candidates’ climate positions when they cast their ballots.

Just last month, NewsHour drew fire for turning to climate change contrarian Anthony Watts, a meteorologist, as a counterpoint to the scientific consensus on climate change. NewsHour did not disclose Watts’ connection to the Heartland Institute, which is partly funded by corporations with an interest in obscuring climate science. Soon after, PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler acknowledged that the segment “was not the PBS NewsHour’s finest 10 minutes” and said he found it “stunning” that Watts had been picked instead of “a university-accredited scientist to provide ‘balance.'” But it remained to be seen whether PBS would re-commit itself to informing its audience and holding politicians accountable for the problems of the day. Tonight’s debate indicated that PBS has not taken the criticism it has received seriously. Indeed, shortly after closing remarks, Watts gloated on his blog that climate was not mentioned.

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