Even if newspaper coverage didn’t do much more than replay Clinton’s, Edwards’, and Kucinich’s platforms verbatim, however, it was a step in the right direction. As David Sandretti, who works for the League of Conservation Voters and handled most of the event’s media outreach, explained to me, “Newspapers are full of stories about the price of oil and the melting ice caps. And they are full of stories about the presidential campaign. But never the twain have met.” Saturday’s forum certainly helped to remedy that situation, but the event itself was an example of how difficult it still is to generate widespread publicity for environmental issues.
“It’s a weird situation in that the candidates care more about these issues than the media does,” Roberts told me over the phone, a day before the forum.
In the months leading up to the event, the League of Conservation Voters approached all of the major networks, some affiliates, and CNN in an effort to secure live TV coverage. For a variety reasons, they all declined, according to Sandretti. Some wanted to use their own moderator (instead of Steve Curwood, the host of public radio’s “Living on Earth” program) or expand the forum’s focus to include more than just energy and global warming. Others wanted more than just the three candidates.
So, as much as the “first-ever” forum highlighted the growing prominence of environment issues in the presidential campaign, it also revealed persistent obstacles.
In Roberts’ opinion, the lack of live television coverage isn’t as much of a concern today as it would have been even four years ago, because of the Internet. “The one-time audience is not the significant audience anymore,” he told me. “Once stories or videos get online they’re evergreen in a sense. They can get passed around for eternity and over time, you can reach an even larger audience than TV does.”
CNN, it should be said, is the only news outlet-broadcast or print-that appears to have covered Saturday’s forum as something more than a set of stump speeches. In a three-minute segment posted online today, correspondent Bill Schneider talks less about what was said at the gathering and more about how difficult it is to focus the public’s attention on energy and the environment. He mentions the “first-ever” bit, and he interviews Roberts after the forum, where the Grist columnist made many of the same media-oriented complaints that he made to me last Friday.
Four years from now, as a new batch of candidates gears up to challenge whoever wins this presidential election, I predict that a forum (or even a full-fledged debate) dedicated to energy and global warming will seem obvious and draw the coverage it deserves. Perhaps more candidates will attend, and the organizers will be more prepared than they were this time. Then, maybe, I can stop complaining about the media putting the event in context, and focus on what is actually said.