In addition to boosting supply and lowering gas prices, the article mentions another point on which journalists might challenge McCain more often: the environmental impact and safety of offshore drilling. It notes that McCain’s visit to an offshore platform “was scuttled in the face of Hurricane Dolly and a massive fuel oil spill in the Mississippi River near New Orleans.” The piece, by Michael Shear and Paul Kane, goes on to mention that “the oil slick in the Mississippi River was caused by a collision between a tanker and a barge, not a leak at an oil rig.” But oddly enough, the article doesn’t mention earlier work by Shear, which found that the platforms might not be as sturdy as McCain would have everybody believe. In a post on WaPo’s The Trail blog, Shear wrote that, despite the senator’s claims:

In fact, Katrina and Hurricane Rita caused damage to oil rigs and storage facilities in the Gulf, according to press reports and government studies.

The hurricanes totally destroyed 113 oil rigs, according to the government’s Minerals Management Service, and damaged 457 pipelines. The resulting oil spills were large enough to be seen from space, according to several reports.

Much like the EIA report on offshore drilling’s inability to boost oil supply and assuage short-term gas prices, such details should be mentioned in all news articles where the safety of drilling comes up. On the matter of supply and prices, however, there has been much reporting. The Wall Street Journal just wrapped up an intriguing five-part, online debate between two McCain and Obama campaign representatives about each side’s plan for balancing environmental conservation with consumer demand for relief from high electricity and gas prices. Notably, however, the most important and relevant questions came not from the moderator, Neil King, Jr., but from the campaigns themselves. In part five of the debate, the Journal asked each side to pose its own question to the other:

The Obama Campaign’s Question: How would McCain’s cap and trade proposal affect energy prices and what would you do about it?

The McCain Campaign’s Question: … [D]oes Senator Obama guarantee that all proceeds from these [100 percent cap-and-trade permit] auctions exceeding $15 billion will be returned to the American people (as Congress often spends money it has in its coffers)?

The answers to the questions, of course, were somewhat evasive. But journalists should be aiming for questions that are similarly specific and hard-hitting. It might also be noted that reporters who have trouble getting access to the candidates can turn to other sources. A good example of a solid interview recently popped up at Grist, where two of the online magazine’s reporters sat down with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. One of the best queries asked how the Democratic Congress would proceed with climate legislation if Obama loses the election. During the primaries, conventional wisdom within the media was that the next president would undoubtedly support strong measures to thwart global warming.

Whether or not that assumption is now invalid remains a topic for debate. One thing is sure, however—it will never be resolved until journalists stop harping false leads such as celebrity and race, and focus on what the candidates are really debating in their ads: energy and economics.

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Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.