20: number of Republican presidential primary debates held over the past year
839: number of unique questions asked at those debates
109: number of questions about “how conservative” candidates are
3: number of questions about the Keystone XL pipeline
2: number of questions about climate change
1: number of questions about pizza crust
Those are some of the findings of journalism students at NYU’s Studio 20, led by professor Jay Rosen. They analyzed all of the questions journalists asked at the debates and broke them down into topic areas. Only 1 percent got categorized as fluff (e.g., when Herman Cain was asked, “Deep dish or thin crust?”), but many of the questions focused on the horse-race aspects of the primary — polls, negative ads, flip-flops, campaign strategy, “electability” — and not on the kinds of substantive issues that most Americans are actually concerned about.
The environment got particularly short shrift: More questions were asked about the moon than about the earth.
So, what should the candidates be asked, particularly on issues related to sustainability or the environment? The next debate will take place on Feb. 22 in Arizona, hosted by CNN and moderated by John King.
Here’s the question Rosen says he would ask:
Senator Santorum, you’ve referred in these debates to the “global warming hoax.” Really, Senator? Are you seriously suggesting that the 255 members of the National Academy of Science who recently signed a letter about climate change and the integrity of science have no integrity, that they are engaged in a kind of fraud?
What green questions would you ask? Tell us in comments below — or on Twitter (@Grist), Facebook, or Google+ — and we’ll pull your answers together before the next debate.