Friday, January 04, 2008

Not Up For Debate, The Debates Are Pretty Worthless

The 2008 presidential campaign appears to have had more candidate debates in recent memory, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's been a good thing. In spite of the fact that the early debates featured all of the candidates in a party's field, you couldn’t help noticing that the "fringe candidates" always seemed to be on the fringe of the stage and the "front runners" always seemed to be well, front and center. Then there was the format. Assuming that the typical American attention span is about 45 seconds, the affairs offered plenty of sound bytes and little actual debate.

Blame the media outlets.

The vaunted fourth estate, once charged with keeping our government honest, has let us down. Let's face it, moderators such as Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer are celebrities in their own right, with images and ratings to maintain. Even the “historic” YouTube debates were laughable, their historic significance seeming to derive from the fact that CNN told us they were. It’s a blurring of entertainment and news that makes it hard to distinguish where one ends and the other begins.

And whether it be CNN or Fox News, none of it is fair, balanced or unbiased.

In perhaps the most recent mark of shame, ABC News has decided that they now get to determine the threshold that a declared candidate must meet in order to participate in their debate. The Associated Press reported today that three candidates have been cut from their upcoming debates for failing to meet benchmarks of support. They are Mike Gravel, Duncan Hunter and Dennis Kucinich. Said ABC political news director, David Chalian, "In previous debates where the stage was more crowded you had to make sure all of the candidates got equal time. Here you will have more time to go in depth on the issues."

While Mr. Chalian's point may be true, the fundamental question is this: Why does he get to decide?

Could it because he's beholden to his advertisers? Advertisers who perhaps will fare better should one of the "front runners" be elected?

The bottom line: The only way to make the debates work is to change the format.

What we need is a series of topical debates such as foreign policy, the economy and the environment. Then we need to do a draw system where one randomly drawn candidate debates another randomly drawn candidate, picked from the bowl, right there, live on stage. "Senator Clinton, your opponent is Representative Kucinich." "Governor Romney, your opponent is Mayor Guiliani." Give them the opportunity to make an opening statement. Give them 1 question. Give them 15 minutes and let them go.

Until that time our corporations and media will decide the most acceptable candidates and our candidates will regurgitate empty headed sound bytes for us to swallow.

And by the way, if you don't think that ABC should be doing this, maybe you'd like to drop them a note. Contact ABC.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the British debate system, which allows rhetorical and persuasive argumentative skills to shine -- students are taught to value verbal repartee from their first public school debating experiences. Our current president looks like an illiterate idiot next to the least member of the House of Commons! I'm sick of having the networks cater to the lack of skills in the candidate field. The capacity for intelligent debate is important to me -- anyone can memorize little speeches on anticipated topics, but being able to respond extemporaneously to unexpected challenges is something I think we deserve in a president. I don't want diatribes OR sound bites as much as I want a reasonable, clear-thinking person who is quick-witted and able to throw/take verbal punches.

9:26 PM  

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