By R.A. Epstein
By now many commentators have responded to CNN’s September 4 clown hall and its “Twilight Zone”-worthy soundbytes of Bernie Sanders advocating funding abortion abroad for population control, Kamala Harris’s War on Straws, and Joe Biden’s exploding blood vessel.
In the midst of this seven-hour ode to Stormageddon, there were here and there some interesting nuggets, such as one attendant who confronted Biden on his vow to not accept fossil fuel donations while appearing one evening before at a fundraiser thrown by a fossil fuel investor. While none of the candidates offered an original take on the topic, some appeared more competent or honest than others.
Sen. Cory Booker, for instance, admitted he is not well-versed enough to comment on geo-engineering, and maintained that nuclear energy has to be part of an “alternative energy” blend in order to realistically replace fossil fuels. Sen. Amy Klobuchar even discussed some agricultural solutions that were not sprinkled with cartoon-world insanity.
The most understated issue of the night, however, was CNN’s deceptive sampling of its audience. In its August 27 bulletin outlining the agenda for the town hall, the network stated at the very bottom: “CNN previously announced that the town hall audience will be drawn from Democratic and independent voters and stakeholders interested in the issue and no public tickets will be available.”
Due to the circus on stage, low ratings (although high by CNN standards), and the monotonous fear mongering, viewers could be forgiven for not noticing a subtle pattern in who asked the questions. This raises a question: Was this a town hall meant to reflect the concerns of Americans about climate change, or a public screening and interrogation by climate change activists?
It is one thing to include advocacy groups in a discussion, and it is something else entirely to give a radical organization airtime to quiz every single candidate in a presidential election. It is even more egregious when the activists’ associations are concealed from or misleadingly presented to the TV audience.
If this happened on the Republican side, with, say, a debate on abortion including only questions from pro-life activist organizations, it would be roundly mocked, presented as wildly biased, and not accepted as representing public views or the public debate. But when it happens on the Democratic side, crickets.
News Media Goes Where DNC Will Not
To every candidate appearing at the town hall apart from Booker (who mentioned them), there was at least one query from a person either directly or indirectly affiliated with the Sunrise Movement. Sunrise is a climate protest movement that demanded an actual “climate change debate” and then its spokeswoman complained on CBS when the Democratic National Committee voted against holding on. CNN and MSNBC granted them town halls instead.
Never mind that nearly every candidate has gone on the record figuratively kneeling to the politicized movement and its deranged concepts of “climate justice” and the Green New Deal. There was also a disproportionate number of people working at or attending Northwestern or Columbia universities asking questions, and CNN’s climate correspondent Bill Weir (who is otherwise excluded here) received one question per candidate. However, all of these people were appropriately labelled by the CNN screen graphics.
Just to sample the number of far-left activists whom CNN allowed to press Democratic presidential candidates, let’s focus on the questioners at the townhall either directly or indirectly affiliated with Sunrise, although there were plenty others as well. Each person’s question is linked to the time-stamped YouTube video. Non-Sunrise-affiliated climate change activists will be indicated as such.
Katie Eder is executive director of Future Coalition. She appeared on The Young Turks network contributor John Iadarola’s “Damage Report.” Future Coalition is a group of 25 youth organizations that includes Sunrise Movement.
Isaac Larkin is a PhD candidate at Northwestern University. He’s also been identified by The Real News and Gizmodo as a Sunrise volunteer. CNN merely identified him as a doctoral candidate at Northwestern University.
Nancy Romer is a retired professor at Brooklyn College CUNY and a climate activist who published an endorsement of Sunrise Movement in the CUNY Clarion. She has been on the steering committee of the People’s Climate Movement NY, a partner with Sunrise’s parent group 350.org.
There was also David Low, a retired religion professor from Rutgers and LaSalle, a man who claims to be a dream interpreter. Low did ask a rational question about whether Buttigieg personally models the spending changes that consumers would have to adopt under Democrats’ environmentalist proposals. To reiterate: a self-proclaimed soothsayer asked one of the more reasonable questions of the evening.
Sila Inanoglu is a high school student and Sunrise activist. She was one of the few people CNN labelled truthfully as a movement activist.
Gianna Lum is a Climatepedia founder and Columbia University student.
Mychal Estrada belongs to Green For All, an organization identified on CNN as founded by network personality Van Jones. Green For All is allied with Sunrise in backing the Green New Deal and the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge.
Ari Papahronis was identified on air as a Sunrise activist at Columbia University.
Naomi Holland is a Sunrise training fellow. She asked Klobuchar about disproportionate climate impacts on “people of color,” after pointing out to the senator that she was a “woman of color.” She is a leading Sunrise organizer at Columbia U/Barnard College.
Vic Barrett is a co-plaintiff in a class action lawsuit (Juliana v. United States) supported by the Sunrise Movement. He was a fellow with the Alliance for Climate Education, and has been featured in Vogue, IPC-DC and TRNN (listed erroneously as a defendant).
While the senator from New Jersey was not asked a question by any Sunrise activists, he did plug them while mistakenly calling them the “Sunshine movement.” But there were still some interesting people who wanted to talk to Spartacus.
Joseph Sarno is with the Huntington Young Democrats of Suffolk Co., New York.
Alan Robock is a climate science professor at Rutgers University. Robock signed a letter in 2009 claiming that the “stolen emails” from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia that were leaked to WikiLeaks had no bearing on the “settled science” of climate change.
Justine Berfond is a NYU student and Sunrise volunteer.
Grennan Milliken was labelled a student at Columbia University even though he has published articles for Vice News concerning the March for Science and resistance against a pipeline in New Jersey. This constitutes a lie by omission.
Robin Happel is a Class of 0000 activist. Class of 0000 is an initiative supported by Sunrise, according to Common Dreams. She was only identified by CNN as an environmental law student at Pace University. She has also written for America, a Jesuit magazine, about her experiences as a climate change activist.
Robert Wood is a writer and climate organizer for 350 Brooklyn. 350.org is Bill McKibben’s activist group precursor to Sunrise. Sunrise co-founder Varshini Prakash is a former 350.org activist and they cooperate on funding, communications and campaigns.
Wood asked a question proposing public ownership of energy utilities to mitigate capitalist abuses through fossil fuels. “Would you be willing to call out capitalism in this way?”
A Platform for Activist Pressure, Not Public Discourse
Were there other worthy people in the audience asking questions? Of course. For instance, there were climate scientists Paul Kazyak of Johns Hopkins University, who asked Klobuchar about changing citizen behavior, and Catherine Duckett of Monmouth University, who asked Sanders about FEMA regulations.
But there were also definitely some strange choices, and while there was a dearth of tradesmen, energy workers, and truck drivers at the debate, for whatever reason CNN decided that Robert Francis needed to be quizzed by Annie Tomlin, whom CNN labeled as an “Eco-Friendly Small Business Owner.” They forgot to mention that her “business” is a beauty blog and she is a contributor for SELF magazine and Refinery29. They also had a “retired author” ask a question of Warren.
While the climate activists may continue to gripe that they didn’t get a “debate,” it is remarkable how shameless they and CNN were in setting up a debate where myriad activists were given the ability to ask questions of presidential candidates on national TV. At least eight other people that joined were members of organizations either directly or indirectly connected to Sunrise through affiliations or coalitions. Two other guests were journalists (Tomlin and Milliken) were journalists posing as something else.
The balance of the other people invited were not dissenters from climate alarmism. Notably, moderate Klobuchar faced three activists while both Biden and Buttigieg were quizzed by ones whose affiliations to Sunrise CNN did not note.
This raises the issue of what CNN meant when it claimed that “stakeholders” would be invited to the town hall alongside Democratic and independent voters. CNN omitted the fact that these “stakeholders” were in large part volunteer associates, trainers, and paid fellows of the same activist group (Sunrise) and groups directly affiliated (350.org, Momentum Community) with it or formally allied to it (Class of 0000, Future Coalition).
The cases of Katie Eder and Isaac Larkin are particularly egregious for a very simple reason: They grilled Biden about his lack of transparency regarding fossil fuel money, and justifiably so given his campaign message. But from the standpoint of the candidate he is also being deceived when a climate change campaigner like Larkin is passed off as a concerned student rather than what he really is: a political activist.
Would Fox News be able to get away with a gun control town hall where National Rifle Association officials, members, donors, and trainers were asking the majority of the questions but being presented as “Dave, small business owner” or “Shirley, school administrator”?
The network turned the town hall into a hunting ground for camouflaged activists hoping to bag the most recalcitrant candidates, and CNN was able to paint it as a forum for public concerns over the climate. With such deception in its programming, can Jeff Zucker continue to call his network the “most trusted name in news”?