Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Moderator-only debates limit voices to ask necessary questions

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Originally published on on Fri, 09/26/2008 – 11:02am

Jim Lehrer, Gwen Ifill, Tom Brokaw, Bob Schieffer

These are the only four question-askers in the 2008 debates. Four TV journalists, one current national anchor, two former national anchors, and one public affairs host. That’s it. In 2004, it was the same list, with Charlie Gibson in for Tom Brokaw.

Since 1996, we have had only single-moderator debates. In 1992, two of the four debates featured panels of print and television journalists.

We certainly don’t want a return to the nightmare of Bernard Shaw’s 1988 Kitty Dukakis question. But do we need the return of reporters to the debates?

I did get inspiration for bringing this topic up from TV Barn’s Aaron Barnhart, TV critic for the Kansas City Star. Even though his background is in television, Barnhart wonders about the difficulty of the moderator having to “play the part of both impartial judge and hard-nosed prosecutor,” and in the town hall setting, is concerned that “the place of the journalist has been taken by so-called ‘uncommitted voters.’ ”

As the Shaw example proves, perhaps TV reporters aren’t the best modes of getting in quality questions. I would nominate print reporters and those from the blogosphere with credibility.

For example, Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post would be a good pick. Perhaps Chris Hayes of The Nation might work. Ana Marie Cox has certainly earned her way to the table. There are countless other examples to consider.

This means no disrespect to Lehrer, Ifill, Brokaw, and Schieffer — all of whom are good moderators. But it puts a lot of pressure of four people, who get to come up with the questions in the major spectacle that helps most otherwise uninformed Americans who they should vote for on November 4.

Ifill, who turns 53 on Monday, is by far the youngest moderator and she is doing the VP debate. No offense, but there are issues and concerns of young people that usually get ignored by these debates. Lehrer (74), Brokaw (68), and Schieffer (71) are really close to McCain’s age, and politics aside, might wonder if Barack Obama might be ready to lead simply because he is old enough to be the child of these three men.

And what about the perspective of people who don’t live in New York or Washington? We have seen from Charlie Gibson’s performances in New Hampshire and Philadelphia that he doesn’t have a grasp of economic reality outside the two East Coast media capitals.

Give some credit where it’s due, Ifill did unofficially solicit questions from readers, not all of whom are from Washington. But there’s no guarantee she will use any of them.

Those who know very little about the two major party candidates will learn something tonight in Mississippi, October 2 in St. Louis, October 7 in Nashville, and October 15 in Hempstead, NY. But we will learn more about what four media elites think we should learn from the candidates than what we should know.


Written by democracysoup

September 26, 2008 at 11:02 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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