CNN, MSNBC Are Hosting Climate Change-Focused Events Featuring Presidential Candidates

By A.J. Katz Comment

CNN and MSNBC are devoting evenings to covering climate change and the climate crisis.

CNN will host a climate change town hall live from New York on Wednesday, Sept. 4 from 6 p.m. – Midnight ET.

The network is only extending invitations for its climate town hall to Democratic presidential hopefuls who were able to reach 2% in at least four DNC-approved polls conducted between June 28 and this coming Wednesday (Aug. 21).

Nine Democratic candidates met the threshold, and eight of have accepted CNN’s invitation to discuss the issue: Former vp Joe Biden; Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Sen. Amy Klobuchar; former Rep. Beto O’Rourke; Sen. Bernie Sanders; Sen. Elizabeth Warren; and businessman Andrew Yang.

Sen. Kamala Harris of California declined CNN’s invitation. According to the network, she cited a scheduling conflict as the reason for declining the invite.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who is making climate the focus of his presidential campaign, is presently not on the roster.

According to CNN, candidates will take questions directly from a live studio audience and a CNN moderator. The audience will be drawn from Democratic voters interested in the issue. The town hall will air live on CNN platforms around the world.

Erin Burnett, Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon will moderate individual candidate segments, and CNN chief climate correspondent Bill Weir will join in the questioning throughout the event.

We spoke with Weir last week in advance of his Woodstock special, and television news coverage of climate change came up in our Q&A.

The veteran TV newser feels the climate beat is THE beat. “It encompasses every aspect of our lives, not just from what we drive, but what we need, how we build, how we move around the country, that we protect each other against disasters,” said Weir. “It’s about psychology and sociology and history.”

Regarding the climate beat, Weir added:

[CNN Worldwide president] Jeff Zucker at the beginning of the year said, “I think climate is it’s own beat. We’ve reached that stage in this conversation.” And I was absolutely thrilled to hear that. I think any reporter wants to do stories that comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable on the largest possible scale. And this is as big as it gets.

So, we’ll figure out ways to work my storytelling into the weekly mix on a much more consistent basis, while I’m also on the road shooting long form documentaries. I’ve got one in the works right now. I was just in Iowa. I spent a week there, a dozen farmers and even formed three and a half minute piece, but I got way more traction online and went farther then a lot of other things. It was sort of the quality over quantity model. So I want to wrap that up.

What my colleagues in newsrooms everywhere who want to tell this story are frustrated by is just that the viewer’s not wired to think about 50-year threats. They’ll say, “Tell me about the hurricane that’s coming on Saturday, and I’m in.”  We’ve got too much immediate concern in our lives to think about -as much as we love them- to think about our children or grandchildren’s generations. But I think the story has accelerated now because people are feeling it and it’s no longer a distant theoretical crisis. I have covered three 500-year storms in Texas in the space of a year. I was in Key Largo for Hurricane Irma and Puerto Rico for Hurricane Maria. And these are human stories.

I was in Iowa and did a story about how hard it’s going to be on farmers and how hard it is on farmers, and I got a DM from a local woman there who teaches FFA classes – Future Farmers of America- and says how utterly depressing it is for these 12 and 13-year-olds to think about their futures.

And for that generation, to the kids who are camped out in front of the U.N. every Friday, to them, it’s like the house is on fire, but mom and dad are having another cup of coffee.

So, I think that newsrooms would be well-informed to hear the youngest voices on this because they have the most to lose. And to think and to think about every story, whether it’s a recycling story or a food quality story or a heat death warning, we’re all part of this same beat now whether we like it or not.

While CNN’s event appears to have a strict structure, MSNBC is billing its event as a forum, and it is inviting all presidential candidates, regardless of DNC polling.

MSNBC’s Washington, D.C.-based climate forum will be hosted by Georgetown University and the website Our Daily Planet, on September 19-20. It’s being co-hosted by Chris Hayes and Ali Velshi.