Too Many Debates?

Stan Statham
President/CEO of the California Broadcasters Association

America is definitely in an early Presidential political debate season.  What’s happening?  We have had 8 so far, with another 12 still scheduled for the Republican Primary between now and March 5th.  The next debate is Tuesday, October 11th on Bloomberg TV.

Is it just because there are too many politicians who want to be our President or is it simply the media looking for more viewers?  For the moment, let’s decide it is both.  We do know that TV does its best to show you “Breaking News,” “Happening Now,” “Live” or “Exclusive” material.  We are excellent at that.  It is called “Reality TV.”

We are also much better at showing you the real human side of our leaders.  As viewers, we discover what problem they promise to solve in their one to two minute answers.  We find out how they respond to confrontation.  We see if they are overweight.  We discover who has a sense of humor? In the 1950s, before “live” debates, most Americans did not even know that FDR was paralyzed.  You learn lots in these debates.

We are now using this kind of TV to bring you the best look at our candidates so far.  Let’s use more of reality TV to decide our Presidency.  “Survivor” and “American Idol” are fun, but Presidential debates are vital.

To show you that human side we are slowly but surely throwing all the rules away.  I remember in California’s 2003 Gubernatorial Debate when, as moderator, I personally told the candidates “When you feel the others candidates have adequately answered the question, do not wait for me.  Jump right in.  I will be monitoring everyone’s time.”

Because I did that, candidate Arianna Huffington directly attacked Arnold Swartzenegger every chance she could.   Yes, it was excellent reality TV and “infotainment!”  And, we discovered the Terminator was already, and lying in wait with his sound bites.

That was 8 years ago.  Now in a recent Tea Party sponsored debate Moderator Wolfe Blitzer asked all 9 candidates to give a short answer to the question; “If you become President of the United States, what will you move physically into the oval office?”

Was Blitzer serious?  What does that question have to do with public policy?  Actually, it makes better TV because the question is unusual and unexpected.  I perked right up, wondering what each candidate would say.

Bottom Line:  Because of these “live” debates you now know that Rick Perry does not wear his six shooters during debates, Michelle Bachmann obviously drinks too much coffee and Newt Gingrich is one smart dude!  You have gained an important feeling.

Again, all of this makes for “good TV.”  When it comes to bad TV people won’t be watching anyway.  No country on earth does a better job with political debates than America.

The next time you complain, remember that these debates are a blessing.  You know more because of these debates.

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