Debates and Journalism

Howard Kurtz, of Media Buzz, had a couple of thoughts. Which means that so do I.

[W]e’re hearing that some campaigns want to vet the moderators, approve the on-screen graphics, limit the scope of questions or decree that all candidates be asked the same questions. Sorry, but those are editorial decisions to be made by journalists.

I’ll leave aside the blatant rumor-mongering that that “we hear” opening is, and that is so demeaning to what used to be a profession of journalism.

Kurtz’ journalists “decisions” on those are driven by personal and station TV ratings, not by the purpose of the debates. On-screen graphics? The CNBC failure demonstrated that journalists can’t be trusted with them. It may be too much for the candidates to vet their own graphics, but journalists need oversight, badly.

Limit the scope of the questions? Of course. A proper debate focuses on an area—as that CNBC thing agreed in advance to do, and then they welched on their agreement. Trust journalists on this?

All candidates be asked the same questions: what is it about “debate” that’s unclear to Kurtz? How is it a debate, exactly, if all of the candidates aren’t challenged to lay out their views/policies on the same subject? If that limits the number of questions there’s time to ask, well, there’s that focus thing, again.

Then there’s this from Kurtz:

The danger for the candidates is that they will be seen as overreaching, as wary of facing challenging questions.

There’s Kurtz’ own, and deliberate, distortion. The candidates will seem overreaching and fearful of tough questioning only as journalists, including Howard Kurtz, choose to paint them that way. Wary of facing challenges? Where is that demonstrated in the push to have all the candidates asked the same question? In fact, it’ll be exactly that challenge for those candidates who are in some way unprepared for the question because they’ve not yet formulated or articulated a position on a question’s subject.

Kurtz’ piece is a clear demonstration of why the public—and the candidates—cannot trust them.

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