TPM’S Highlight Reel Of Last Night’s Debate

Ken AshfordElection 2008Leave a Comment

A shortish video:

My problem with debates, particularly at this stage in the game, is that the media tries to make them all about "gotchas" and "one-liners".  There was a time when the media used to look down on that kind of thing; now their questions to the candidates encourage that.  Sure, a debate about differences in policy issues is boring as all hell, but it’s important.  The whole horserace/cage match thing is totally irrelevant ("Will Obama slap down Hillary in tonight’s debate?  WATCH on CNN… TONIGHT!")

[Case in point: CNN now covers the debate with the "top 10 zingers"]

In short, better media please.

MORE THOUGHTS from Brian Beutler:

I should say that I don’t think the fault for the awfulness of the debates rests entirely on the journalists. Politicians are pretty good at not saying anything no matter what the questions are and no matter who asks them. I suppose the ideal forum might look something like a town-hall where audience members ask questions and professional journalists filibuster whenever the politicians try to dodge. But that would screw up this system we have which encourages famous journalists, asking predictable questions, to appear dozens of times before famous politicians, trying desperately to pivot to their stump speeches, all in an effort to create as many tabloid-like headlines as possible.

Yup, I’ll agree with that.

UPDATE:  Yglesius agrees with my complaint (emphasis mine):

As ever, it’s really striking to observe the difference between the audience-generated questions and the journalist-generated questions. Wolf Blitzer’s main interest is in asking questions designed to put Democrats on the wrong side of public opinion, even if those questions are about things like driver’s licenses or "merit pay" for teachers that aren’t really under federal purview. Efforts to reframe those questions by putting those topics in the larger context of immigration policy more generally or education more generally are derided as cowardly dodges. The point, after all, is to force a choice — piss off an interest group, or say something that could be used in a GOP attack ad.

The real people, by contrast, ask about problems in their lives. The mother of an individual ready reserve member wants to know about Iran policy. The mother of an active duty soldier wants to know about military pay versus pay for military contractors. An Arab-American wants to know about racial profiling. Then the candidates explain what they think about these issues.

The voters are curious and want to learn where the candidates stand. Blitzer doesn’t care about informing the public about the issues — he actually objects when candidates try to explain their views on broad immigration policy issues — he’s just interested in trying to embarrass the candidates.

UPDATE: Great example. An audience member makes the sensible observation that the candidates haven’t talked about the Supreme Court and asks them to say something about their approach to picking nominees. I’d be interested to hear the answers to these questions. The journalists decide to change this isn’t a pointed question about a Roe litmus test — gotcha! — do Democrats violate the "no litmus test" taboo, or do they piss off feminists? Good work! Blah.

UPDATE:  The last question was an embarrasing one from a UNLV student to Hillary — whether she preferred diamonds or pearls.  The questioner — a UNLV student — was heavily criticized after the debate for her stupid question.  It turns out, it wasn’t the question she wanted to ask.  Once again, CNN trivialized substance.