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Choice of Moderators Shows Need for Upgrade of Presidential Debate Programming

Posted: 08/20/2012 1:46 pm

The moderators for the upcoming presidential debates were revealed last week, and while the first female pick in 20 years was among them, there were no other surprises.

The line-up was otherwise what has come to be expected in these debates over the years: seasoned, archetype correspondents from the mainstream press.

Since the first presidential debate between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon took place on television in 1960, neither the format nor those asking the questions have changed much, if at all.

In a political age dominated by an instantaneous 24/7 news cycle, social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and powerful political blogs and websites -- as well as a corresponding decrease in influence of mainstream newspapers and network and cable news programming -- the relevancy and fairness of not only the moderators, but the debates themselves, comes into serious question.

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced Monday the selection of CNN's Candy Crowley, PBS's Jim Lehrer and CBS's Bob Schieffer as the moderators of the three presidential debates. ABC's Martha Raddatz will host the one vice presidential debate.

The selection of these four was immediately met with both reservation and criticism.

Politico's Dylan Byers astutely critiqued the choices by writing: "They're old, they're white, and they rarely, if ever, use Twitter. They are also, arguably, the best people for the job."

He went on to state that their selection "... reeks of the archaic: At an average age of 69 (72 if you exclude Raddatz), the debate hosts all come from old media and a familiar demographic that better represents the commission than it does the American public. Moreover, as veterans of 20th-century television journalism, none represent the Internet and social media age that has largely come to define the 2012 campaign."

From news talk radio, Rush Limbaugh denounced the selections as "far, far left-wing liberal Democrats... It's the same old media hacks handling the debates."

Limbaugh is right (no pun intended). If the 20 tedious GOP primaries during this presidential race cycle were any indication, there will indeed be a left-leaning bias displayed by the moderator. In these earlier debates, candidate Newt Gingrich even made it a point at a number to mock and call some of them out for their biased questioning.

And do not plan on any really tough questions being asked of President Obama.

The particularly soft, indulgent, kid-gloves treatment that the president has been given during the past election and throughout his term in office by the networks that employ these moderators will surely continue in these debates.

A lot fewer Americans are now getting their news from the television than a decade ago, particularly those millions of Americans under the age of 45 who get their news and opinion coverage from mobile devices and tweet their political views.

New, different moderators from the blogosphere (even guys like Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann) should have been chosen to reflect the 21st-century paradigm change in American politics and news reporting.

The next step is to choose other participants to question the candidates. If their pick of moderators is any indication, surely the Commission on Presidential Debates will join up with stolid mainstream press associations to select the usual candidates from editorial boards of dying newspapers and network/cable news, too. Surely a writer like me without j--school or editorial room experience would never be considered by these dinosaurs to ask a tough question or two in the debates.

Presidential debates, while relatively new on the American political landscape, evolved with the popularity and conventionality of television in the last half of the 20th century. But in their present form, they have become as antiquated as television news.

In addition to these debates, maybe it is time for new techniques for the American people to examine presidential contenders. How about each candidate delivering his inaugural address a few days before election day on YouTube to give the American people an opportunity to see his vision and plans for the future? What about an official Facebook presidential debate page, where each of them answers 20 to 25 short questions on various topics submitted from an array of bloggers across the political spectrum? Or why not just pick some new, diverse political pundits to ask questions at these upcoming debates?

It is definitely time for an upgrade in the debate platform. The times demand it.

Published in the Sun Sentinel on Aug. 16, 2012

Steven Kurlander is a communications strategist and columnist for the Sun Sentinel and FloridaVoices.com. Visit Kurly's Kommentary and email him at kurly@stevenkurlander.com.

 

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