That “Debate” Was a Low Moment, Even by Our Standards

I haven’t posted much politically in recent months, but a quick one, then I need to get to work.

I woke up pretty depressed. That spectacle last night was embarrassing and demeaning to our democracy. Now, political “debates” have been riding the low road for decades; the last intelligent, civilized debates were in 1960. They became extensions of the campaigns, with a bit of mud-wrestling thrown in. Last night was only the most recent, and perhaps the worst, example. Attack lines (mainly from Trump) and campaign messaging (Clinton) instead of respectfully answering the questions people posed, which, BTW, I thought were quite good.

This has been going on, as I said, for decades. The first thing I would do is get rid of the in-studio audiences. The second thing I would do is have an on-screen fact-checker, rather than trying to make the poor moderators (and Cooper and Raddatz did a better-than-usual job, I think) do it, when the candidates will talk over them. I would shut off the mic at two minutes, and the other person gets to talk.

The problem is compounded by the fact that television wants this kind of thing. Those who run t.v. networks find sober discussions of policy boring, when they could be educational. Yes, a portion of the audience wants mud wrestling, but I think (or at least I hope) that most people would genuinely like to hear candidates explain their ideas and not just throw clever – and sometimes not-so-clever – rocks at each other.

It’s common knowledge the average American knows next-to-nothing about our government, how laws and policies are made, and the facts on economics, taxation, spending, and a whole array of issues. There are multiple reasons for this, but my former colleagues in the Fourth Estate, particularly the t.v. side, bear a great deal of responsibility for this in failing to do their jobs.

William Evjue, the founder of the Capital Times newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin, had the motto, “Give people the truth and the freedom to discuss it, and all will go well.” That was both an expression of faith in people and obligation for journalists. Would that he were more widely heeded.



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