For Immediate Release
Lehrer's Debate Ignores World's Vast Majority
presidential debate dedicated to international policy and security issues,
asked a narrow set of questions that left the vast majority
of the world and its problems undiscussed.
Lehrer spent much of the debate asking about the ongoing global financial
crisis, quoting President Dwight Eisenhower as saying that "the
foundation of military strength is economic strength." When he turned
to questions more specifically about foreign policy, he asked about the
"lessons of Iraq"; whether "more U.S. troops should be sent
to Afghanistan, how many and when"; the degree of threat posed by
Iran; whether Russia was a "competitor," an "enemy" or
a "potential partner"; and the likelihood of another September
These are all important international policy areas, but what Lehrer didn't
ask about--and what the candidates subsequently didn't discuss--was
Two of the U.S.'s three largest trading partners--Canada and Mexico--were
never mentioned. Nor was India, the second largest country in the world by
population and the fourth largest economy.
The U.S.'s most important European allies--the British, French and
Germans--were each mentioned once, by McCain, as countries that might help
us influence Iran.
Japan was mentioned once, by Obama--as a place where we don't want the
energy-efficient cars of the future being built.
China, the most populous country in the world, the second biggest economy
in the world and probably the second most powerful country in the world,
was mentioned five times by the candidates, but wasn't brought up in any of
While Israel was not mentioned in Lehrer's questioning, it was brought up
several times by McCain and Obama in the context of the candidates' claims
that Iran posed a potential threat to that country. Palestinians or
Palestine were not mentioned.
Africa and Latin America were each mentioned once, by Obama--as places
where China is active. Current and recent hot spots in Africa like the
Congo, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Rwanda were omitted; Somalia was mentioned only
when McCain discussed his stance on the intervention there in the 1990s.
Brazil, Colombia, Cuba and Haiti never came up; Venezuela was mentioned once,
by Obama--as a "rogue state."
Serbia and the former Yugoslavia were not referred to; Kosovo was mentioned
once, by McCain--as a place where he had supported military action.
(He actually said he "supported what we did in Kosovo," which
isn't true--he wanted to send ground troops in.)
Topics like global poverty, hunger and the food crisis were not asked about
or brought up by the candidates. AIDS and international health
policy went unmentioned as well. Climate change was mentioned three times
by the candidates (once as a reason to support nuclear power), but not
brought up by Lehrer.
Nobody mentioned human rights. "Torture" was mentioned three
times, but not brought up by Lehrer.
Clearly, a 90-minute debate cannot touch on every topic of international
policy. But the narrow focus of Lehrer's questioning suggested that, the
financial crisis aside, military intervention and confrontation were the
only issues worth talking about. Given the wide variety of complex problems
facing the globe, the missed opportunity is tragic.
ACTION: Ask Jim Lehrer why his
questions focused so disproportionately on military intervention and confrontation,
to the exclusion of many of the most pressing global problems.
CONTACT: Jim Lehrer