NYT's Tom Friedman on ABC: Slams McCain Energy Plan, Wants More Taxes

Diane Sawyer ABC "Good Morning America" on Monday featured liberal New York Times columnist Tom Friedman as an energy expert to "fact check" John McCain's policies on the subject and advocate for higher taxes. GMA co-host Diane Sawyer never referred to Friedman's economic policies as liberal, despite the fact that he repeatedly made assertions such as this: "But, you know, there's really no effective plan to make us energy independent without what I call a price signal, without either a carbon tax or a gasoline tax that's really going to shape the market in a different way."

Sawyer began the segment by noting both candidates have plans for energy independence. She then asked, "Are they going to achieve it? Do they mean it?" However, the ABC host didn't ask Friedman to "fact check" Obama's plan. Instead she simply recited the Democrat's plans for eliminating Mid East Oil. And while Friedman freely attacked McCain's policies, he responded to a clip of Obama talking about investing more money into alternative energy by, again, complaining about a lack of gasoline tax: "Unless we have a floor onto the price of gasoline that really keeps that behavior going, you can't throw enough money at this problem."

Later in the piece, Friedman reacted to a question about what he'd like to hear from politicians by citing Denmark as a country whose gas tax policy America should emulate. He enthused, "I'm looking for them to tell the truth, which is everywhere in the world, gasoline is taxed except us. You know, gasoline in Denmark is $10 a gallon."

The columnist and author of the new book ""Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How it Can Renew America," also derided McCain's energy plan as "drill, drill, drill."

In Friedman's "fact check" of McCain's convention speech, he mentioned that the Arizona senator has missed several votes regarding a bill to extend wind and solar credits. However, although Obama made three votes on this issue, he missed the most recent. Friedman didn't bring up that fact.

At one point, before defending his call for a high gas tax as patriotic, Friedman revealed, "So, you know, a lot of times people say, 'Oh, you're for the gasoline tax. You're another tax and spend, you know, liberal.'" To sum up, despite calling for such a steep tax, despite mocking John McCain's plan to drill in the United States, the only labeling on ABC came when Friedman himself used the L-word.  

To be fair to Sawyer, she did at least question Friedman once on his demand for higher gas taxes: The ABC journalist queried, "Yeah, but you're about to be the most unpopular man in America. You really want to keep gas prices this high? And doesn't it hurt the people who can least afford it if you do?"

A transcript of the segment, which aired at 7:13am on September 8, follows:

DIANE SAWYER: Well, an anthem, a battle cry for this campaign from both candidates is energy independence. Are they going to achieve it? Do they mean it? Joining us now to fact check some of what they're saying is an author of a new book on the topic. It's called "Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How it Can Renew America." And here is the author, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist of the New York Times, Tom Friedman. Good to see you, Tom.

ABC GRAPHIC: Energy & the Candidates: Do Their Plans Really Work?

TOM FRIEDMAN: Great to be here.

SAWYER: You have written in this book, we need to change leaders, not light bulbs. Have we done it? Is this a change in leadership with both of them now calling for energy independence?

FRIEDMAN: Well, not quite. Both have good plans on paper, although John McCain has really backed away, I think, a lot from his with his with his call for lifting of the gasoline tax during the summer and drill, drill, drill. But, you know, there's really no effective plan to make us energy independent without what I call a price signal, without either a carbon tax or a gasoline tax that's really going to shape the market in a different way.

SAWYER: Okay. I'm going to come back to that in a second, 'cause you have said this is the opportunity for America. If America really does want to compete against the Chinese and the Indians, this is the way to do it, through energy, green resources, green innovation.

FRIEDMAN: Well, in a world, that's hot, flat, that's a rising middle classes all over and crowded, more and more population, I'm sure of one thing, Diane, E.T., energy technology, is going to be the next I.T. It's going to the next great global industry. And the company that owns E.T., is gonna, I think, have the highest standard of living, the most innovative companies and the healthiest population, I want to make sure that's our country.

SAWYER: All right. Let's take a look at the two campaigns on the convention speeches. John McCain talked about nuclear power. He talked about clean coal and then this is what he said.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: We'll increase the use of wind, tide, solar and natural gas. We'll encourage the development and the use of flex fuel, hybrid and electric automobiles.

SAWYER: Fact check?

FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, John McCain voted, actually didn't vote- In the Congress last year, there was a bill to extend the wind production, solar, tax credits into the future. These are vital to launch these industries. They subsidized wind and solar. Came up eight times in the senate, John McCain missed all eight votes.

SAWYER: You've actually called for another representative of big oil. Too tough?

FRIEDMAN: Oh, I don't think so. You know, given the fact that his mantra has been, "Drill, baby, drill" and has not been what I think it needs to be, "Invent, baby, invent." You know, Diane, there's a saying down in Texas that "If all you ever do is all you ever done, all you'll get is all you've ever got." And if all we ever do is drill, drill, drill, all we're ever going to get is, basically, chasing the oil price.

SAWYER: Yeah. It was surprising to hear at the convention this chant for drilling. Do we have that? Where they yelled, "Drill, baby, drill" over and over again.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: We'll produce more energy at home. We will drill new wells offshore and we'll drill them now. We'll drill them now.

CROWD CHANTING: Drill, baby, drill. Drill, baby, drill.

SAWYER: But new drilling will add some, at least some to --

FRIEDMAN: Oh, about one percent to global demand, or global resources if we find anything. You know, Diane, I tried to imagine if there were Russian, Saudi or Iranian observers at that convention listening to them say "Drill, baby, drill" what would they have been doing? They'd have been up there high fiving each other. They'd have been leading that chant. "Yes, drill, baby, drill." Because that means, you, America, you're going to be focused on a 19th century oil, rather than giving birth to a 20th century industry that could threaten us, renewable energy.

SAWYER: All right. Let's talk about Barack Obama. Because he has talked about eliminating Mid East and Venezuelan oil in ten years. And he, too, talked about natural gas reserves. Clean coal, and he said this.

SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: And I'll invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy. Wind power and solar power and the next generation of bio fuels.

FRIEDMAN: Oh, everybody wants to invest. Everybody wants to throw money at the problem. They think that's the answer. There's only one answer, Diane. And we've seen that in our own lives. What happened when gasoline went up to $4.50 a gallon? People changed their behavior. They bought different cars, they rode to work differently. Unless we have a floor onto the price of gasoline that really keeps that behavior going, you can't throw enough money at this problem.

SAWYER: Yeah, but you're about to be the most unpopular man in America. You really want to keep gas prices this high? And doesn't it hurt the people who can least afford it if you do?

FRIEDMAN: Well, the market's already doing it. The market's going to do that. We have to make this transition at some point. And do you want to be, really, dependent on Middle East oil leaders for the next decade? I sure don't. So, you know, a lot of times people say, "Oh, you're for the gasoline tax. You're another tax and spend, you know, liberal." I always say, let's get one thing straight, pal. We're both for a tax. I just happen to prefer my tax, not go to the Iranian, Saudi and Russian treasury. It's a quant little tic I have, Diane. I like my tax dollars to go to the U.S. treasury, to build U.S. schools, U.S. infrastructures, U.S. roads.

SAWYER: What about the corporate, the windfall profits tax, good idea?

FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, windfall profit taxes, you know, certainly oil companies should be taxed. But, at the end of the day, Diane, what's really going to cause this revolution, is when there is a price signal that says to every American company and every American consumer, it ain't going back, baby. And when you see that, you're go to see 100,000 innovators going into 100,000 garages and make 100, 000 new energy products.

SAWYER: So, what is it you're most looking for a candidate to say right now?

FRIEDMAN: I'm looking for them to tell the truth, which is everywhere in the world, gasoline is taxed except us. You know, gasoline in Denmark is $10 a gallon. And guess what, it's interesting, Diane, you know what the unemployment rate in Denmark is today? 1.6 percent. And you know where one out of every three wind turbines in the world are made? Little Denmark. Gosh, I wonder if there's a connection.

SAWYER: But if you keep gas prices at this level and if you do, as you say, assert, at least the need for alternative energies, how soon can it be broken? How soon, realistically, could we be energy independent?

FRIEDMAN: You know, no one can put a date on it. All I know, there's tremendous innovative power in this country, if you unleash that by creating a market, I think you'll see America be the leader in wind, the leader in solar very, very quickly. I want to us lead E.T., Diane. That's critical. Not China. Not Japan, not Europe.

SAWYER: All right. It's Tom Friedman. The book is "Hot, Flat and Crowded." And you can read excerpts at ABCNews.com. We're going to talk about more of the book later on coming up in coming weeks.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org