Democracy & Government

Your Turn: The Presidential Debates

If you're disgusted even thinking about the upcoming mainstream media debates, you are not alone.

Your Turn: The Presidential Debates

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during primary debates. (Left: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images; Right: GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images)

There’s No Debate, a widely circulated article by Bill Moyers and Michael Kinship, prompted many people to respond ahead of tonight’s presidential debate.

“Let’s call the whole thing off,” Moyers and Winship propose. The presidential debates, they write, “threaten an effect on democracy more like Leopold and Loeb than Lincoln and Douglas.”

There is wide agreement that the debates have become “fraudulent nonsense,” as the authors put it, dominated by both the candidates and the media. The most popular Facebook comment was this, courtesy of Olive Park: “Give them back to the League of Women voters. Network news sucks.” Jane Helms agrees and says the best reason to do just that is because the League doesn’t “have to worry about ratings, corporate sponsors or who cuts their paychecks.”

Sebawlm writes that the profit motive leaves corporate bosses looking over moderators’ shoulders “with the expectation of a ratings bonanza. That incentivizes them to just get Trump to say as many outrageous things as possible, rather than challenging him on those outbursts of stupidity.”

From 1976, the three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate were administered by the League of Women Voters. Then the Reagan administration wanted to wrest control from the League and give it to the networks. By 1988, the League had pulled out because, as they wrote in a press release at the time, it had “no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”

In the can

What we’ve been left with since then are not real debates, writes MinnyMa. “In today’s political world, the candidates don’t listen and don’t respond. They come loaded with a pre-set statement which they spit out no matter what the question.” Steve Lipson says what probably a lot of us are thinking, especially after the Matt Lauer debacle: “How about just forcing the candidates to actually answer the question at hand?”

Mark Bisgeier, suggests “scrapping the audiences” at the debates, believing “it would remove the circus atmosphere, allow real conversation, put the focus on what the candidates say instead of their ‘performance’ and eliminate the incentive for sound-byte, content-free answers.” He concludes that the idea is “a pipe dream” because the “the networks no doubt would hate the idea.”

The networks would hate this idea by Derekdj as well: Broadcast the debates only on public access channels as well as over the internet via a .gov address, to “eliminate the inherent bias from CNN, FOX, MSNBC and others.” That would also serve to “remove one level of profiteering from the elections.”

A number of people, including CommonsFarmer, were critical of Moyers and Winship for not calling out “the elephant and donkey in the room,” the barring of third-party candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson. Many write that they will boycott the debates, since the Green Party and Libertarian candidate will not be included.

Keeping Trump in line

In response to this question posed by Moyers on Winship: How can anyone keep Trump in bounds? Michael Kal responds: “Keeping Trump in line will require an actual adult moderator, not lip service, and certainly not the moderators defining their responsibilities.”

Kal is presumably referring to Chris Wallace of Fox News, who will moderate the third debate, and recently said he does not believe it’s his “job to be a truth squad. It’s up to the other person to catch them on that.” Since Wallace won’t be calling out lies, a number of people suggested visiting fact-checking sites afterward before drawing major conclusions.

There are many suggestions for alternative moderators that would not be, as the authors put it, “minions of an oligarchic media riddled with cronyism and conflicts of interest.” PBS’s Gwen Ifil and Judy Woodruff were mentioned by several people, as was the host of Democracy Now!

SaF writes: “Can you imagine a debate hosted by Amy Goodman? Any candidate brave enough to face that might actually deserve the presidency.” Just imagine that.

Karin Kamp

Karin Kamp is a multimedia journalist and producer. She has produced content for BillMoyers.com, NOW on PBS and WNYC public radio and worked as a reporter for Swiss Radio International. She also helped launch The Story Exchange, a site dedicated to women's entrepreneurship.