THE BLOG

CNN/YouTube Debate Disappoints Viewers and Candidates Alike

07/25/2007 10:40 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

At 6:59 pm last night, I was in Charleston, SC waiting for the CNN/You Tube Democratic debate to begin, and I was pretty damn excited.

All week, CNN had been reporting that education topped the list at 16% as the issue getting the most questions submitted to You Tube, a higher percentage than health care, immigration, or Iraq. The analysts at CNN may have sounded surprised, but we here at ED in '08 knew that the overwhelming energy with which education questions had flooded You Tube was indicative of the public's demand for long-overdue answers.

Needless to say, the debate proved to be a complete disappointment.

Only three questions were asked about education, fewer than the number asked about Iraq and health care, which received less response on You Tube but were given greater presence in the debate.

CNN also completely missed the boat on their selection of the education questions. The answers to two of the three questions didn't elicit any kind of useful response, or give the American people substantive information regarding a candidate's vision for this extremely significant issue.

The decision to emphasize these kinds of personal questions, instead of policy-driven ones, illustrates a huge contempt for voters who have serious concerns about education and a total abdication of journalistic responsibility.

Take a look at some of these videos and tell me if they wouldn't have been better questions to put in front of the candidates.

I am also confused by the continued obsession with the issue of gay marriage in the primary debates, especially since polls show that it ranks so low in top priorities for voters in a presidential election. Also, an entire debate focused on gay issues has already been scheduled.

The message sent to viewers was that their agendas don't count, and it is the media that will set the course of discussion in this election. A student's question about qualified teachers isn't a real concern, but a snowman worried about their snow child is?

This realization is especially disappointing after being fed weeks of CNN's self-congratulatory copy about how this debate was to be a revolutionary example of democracy in action, the first of its kind, etc. CNN may see themselves as the guardians of democracy and truth, but for all its editing and polish, this debate wasn't much more innovative than a carefully edited reality TV show, more about entertainment than elections.

In the past, I've expressed frustration at the lack of substantive discussion about education on the part of the candidates, but if there was anything encouraging about the broadcast last night, it was the eagerness with which most candidates wanted to talk about education, even returning to the education questions after the moderator had moved on. Following an early question about reparations for slavery, several candidates emphasized that the real reparations to be made are in providing better education, resulting in huge waves of applause from the audience.

After the debate, in the spin room, one candidate was heard to say how terrible it was to get so little time for talk about education and how they hoped for more time to debate - really debate - education in the future, acknowledging that education was what people want to hear about in this election.

At a previous democratic debate, in Washington, DC, most of the candidates said that there was no more important issue than addressing the education crisis in America's schools. It's clear that the candidates are ready to talk, and the voters are certainly waiting to listen. Now let's just hope the media catches up.