The League of Conservation Voters has issued a challenge to the top cable and network TV news reporters: quit asking dumb questions and confront the presidential candidates on climate change.


The group has analyzed footage and transcripts from over 120 interviews and debates with candidates conducted or moderated by five TV news hosts: Tim Russert, from NBC’s Meet the Press; Wolf Blitzer, from CNN’s The Situation Room; George Stephanopoulos, from ABC’s This Week; Chris Wallace from Fox News Sunday; and Bob Schieffer from CBS’s Face the Nation. It found that out of the 2,275 questions put to the candidates, only three mentioned “global warming” or “climate change” specifically, and only twenty-four referred to related topics such as fuel efficiency and oil subsidies.


The League of Conservation Voters posted the results of its analysis online today at the Web site whataretheywaitingfor.com. The main thrust of the site, though, is a petition demanding that the five hosts bring climate into focus with hard-hitting coverage:


Your reporting on the 2008 elections has ignored the climate crisis.

• We demand that you publicly acknowledge that the science of global warming is settled and that the climate crisis is an urgent threat.

• We insist that you prioritize global warming in your interviews with all candidates through the 2008 election.


The petition will stay up “until the reporters start making climate a priority,” said David Sandretti, the league’s communications director. “We’re prepared to have it up all year.” Once enough signatures have been collected, the league will forward the petition to the news hosts and their respective stations. Sandretti said the group doesn’t have a specific target, or expectation, for the number of signatures, but added, “I think it’s going to be very compelling. People are just dumbstruck by the dearth of questions on this topic.”


The league has been working on the project for a number of months now, and Sandretti said its information has been “checked and double-checked” for accuracy. The group has been frustrated by the fact that candidates-at least the Democrats-seem more eager than the press to discuss global warming. “They’re bringing it up without prompting,” Sandretti said, pointing out, by way of example, an appearance that John Edwards made on ABC last Sunday, where he brought up global warming twice, despite host George Stephanopoulos’s reluctance to engage on the subject.


The most amusing (or depressing, depending on how you look at it) feature on the petition’s Web site is a short video, paid for by the league, which showcases some of the politically irrelevant questions that TV hosts are asking. These include pets, sports, weight, UFOs, and this peach from ABC: “You have a very cool style,” Stephanopoulos points out to Barack Obama in an interview. “How much of that is tied to your race?”


Egad. Maybe we need this petition more than I thought.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.