Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

When did we become a nation of five-year-olds?

"The media was mean to my candidate first!" "No, it was mean to my candidate first, and you didn't say anything!" "Your candidate's a wuss!" "But you're candidate's a bitch!"

Do you see how stupid this sounds?

I've been a journalist for sixteen years and am currently working on my masters (and teaching) at Temple University. Now I'm sorry to have to say this to those of you who believe that it was cool for Messrs. Gibson and Stephanopoulos to smack Barack Obama around Wednesday night, but it was wrong, and most importantly, it wasn't good journalism.

It was also wrong when it happened to Hillary Clinton in a previous debate, although I suspect that the reason why no one said anything was because we were all afraid she'd kick our asses for sticking up for her. I mean, the entire time she's been in Pennsylvania she's been acting like Charles Bronson in a Tahari pantsuit, for God's sake. (That comes from one of my reporter friends. Don't shoot the messenger.)

The biggest problem I've had with this entire campaign is the willingness on the part of the mainstream media to play king (or queen) maker. It started with them telling us that Senator Clinton was the "inevitable" Democratic nominee and has continued with Senator Obama's being anointed the "frontrunner."

It's not the media's job to do this. But the American public hasn't demanded that it stop, thus it continues.

There is no plausible excuse for the shoddy performances by Messrs. Gibson and Stephanopoulos on Wednesday night. That was two hours of my life that I'll never get back. (I was blogging live from the National Constitution Center. Anyone who wants to see it can do so at themadpoliticalscientist.blogspot.com.)

But then again, there was no plausible excuse for the performances of like Wolf Blitzer, Brian Williams, Tim Russert and even my beloved Keith Olbermann in previous debates.

The group that I feel worst for is my Writing for the News class. I gave them the assignment of watching this debate and coming up with "spin room" questions. I can only imagine the godawful questions I'm going to be hit with.

Denise Clay

Philadelphia, PA

Apr 19 2008 - 11:56pm

Web Letter

My 11-year-old grandson would have been given a failing grade for such a display of disrespectful crap. ABC and their two nitwit puppets stole time from me and my family... let alone the disgusting treatment of a "captive" Senator Obama. I wish I was in a position to buy ABC and fire the entire lot of them--CEOs and all--then send Step and Gib, permanently, to Portland, Oregon... to work as public servants... cleaning the elephant doo at the Portland Zoo.

Steve A. Wood

Forest Grove, OR

Apr 19 2008 - 10:49pm

Web Letter

I find the debate by ABC News was a very fair one. In fact, it was far more fair than any other debate. The timing was equally monitored. The last comment was by coin tossed. The questions were those related to incident between last debate and the one before. The questions were fair and exactly what our citizens want to know. Unfortunately, Obama supporters who are very embittered, very angry and very loud, cried out loudly. Many journalists, including you, The Nation, also try to protect Mr. Obama due the fact that you as well, are inspired by Mr. Obama's charm and charisma. Journalism suppose to be fair and straight, report/write/speak without personal opinion or voice. In this case, your article in attacking ABC News is a disgrace. I believe our nation's Main Stream Media had turned to Opinionism and abandon Journalism completely. What a disgrace.

Joe Johnson

Portsmouth, OH

Apr 19 2008 - 9:25pm

Web Letter

Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos stooped to the level of the politics of the last thirty years, basically insulting the American public’s intelligence and ignoring the degree of anger at the politics of the past. The majority of Americans are tired of this National Enquirer journalism perpetuated by the PR machines of Reagan, Atwater, Bush Sr., Carville, Clinton, Rove, W. and Hillary. The issue mainstream media and the political parties have refused to grasp this election is that Americans are, to paraphrase Howard Beale from Network, "mad as hell, and we're not going to take it anymore!" Thus the appeal of Barack Obama is his focus on changing the politics of the past, his leadership into a new era away from political pettiness so real issues can be solved and America’s disgust with the lies and dumbing down of the political system and mainstream media.

ABC’s blatant IQ-siphoning first hour of questioning was worthy of the best fiction produced by W.’s pre-war speeches, Cheney’s post-war ignorance or right-wing radio’s embellishment of any facts. Wait...! One of Stephanopoulos’s questions was provided by the hackneyed high school graduate and racist extraordinaire Sean Hannity. Moreover, the question was in turn furnished to candidate Clinton. For this reason alone, George Stephanopoulos should be fired by ABC and run out of journalism forever. If ABC has any ethics at all, they will can this charlatan now. Howard K. Smith, David Brinkley and Harry Reasoner must be turning over in their graves. Then again, all mainstream media sold its soul many years ago.

However, America still has a chance. We do not have to meet Satan at the crossroads. In the Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Indiana primaries and then in November America can prove we do not approve of dumbed-down politics, ignorant media and the politics of the past. This very well could be our last, best hope.

Andrew Jones

Atlanta, GA

Apr 19 2008 - 9:02pm

Web Letter

This is likely to become a textbook emblem of the abandonment of integrity and responsibility by the American press.

The viral video showing Stephanopoulos calling out Sam Donaldson in 1992 for asking exactly the same type of irresponsible, trivializing questions he himself asked at the ABC debate is telling. First, it shows that journalists' trivializing of political discourse is nothing new. Second, it shows that the position taken by Stephanopoulos depends totally on where his personal self-interest lies. His integrity is for sale.

Speaking of which, the ABC response to criticism was not that they had honored their responsibility as part of the Fourth Estate but that they had had good ratings. I'm actually glad they did so. It's an open admission that they have absolutely no sense of public responsibility, even though they have been granted control of a precious slice of the public's bandwidth on the understanding that they would respect the public interest in using it.

Obama and Clinton both refused to show up for a Faux News debate, because Faux News is not really a journalism organization but rather the PR branch of the Republican party. They did show up for the ABC debate, and there they were confronted with exactly the same trivialities, innuendos and unethical sabotage they would have encountered on Faux News. Did Hannity, Hume, O'Reilly et al. dictate the questions the ABC sock puppets would mouth for them?

ABC and its non-journalists have deeply insulted the American people. They have assumed we will make profoundly important decisions on the basis of a half-inch of cleavage or a lapel pin.

Wayne Dickson

DeLand, FL

Apr 19 2008 - 6:59pm

Web Letter

I found nothing at all wrong with the debate the other night. The questions that Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos asked, while annoying to the Obama supporters, were actually on the minds of people who are on the fence about whether or not they'd be comfortable with Barack Obama as President. I could have done without the flag pin question because I didn't think that was a big deal. But I find the rest of the questions very relevant.

What the debate showed me is that Barack Obama is easily rattled when the world doesn't love him. When he can't paste on a smile and win someone over, he can't come up with something meaningful to say. The debate the other night was a mix of questions many independents like myself wonder. When did he find out about Rev. Wright's comments/attitudes? It's clear to me now that he did know all along. It's also clear to me that he doesn't have a good handle on the economy. He said no new taxes for people who make under $200K and then proceeded to say that he would consider raising the employment tax. Since that will affect me to the tune of an additional 7 1/2 percent, I paid attention and it gave me pause.

This debate also made me walk away with the notion that he meant what he said about small-town America in that fundraiser in San Francisco. And he didn't say it wrong, like he wants us to believe. I'm small-town, but I'm not poor and I'm not bitter and I certainly don't cling to my religion because of anything to do with the how the government doesn't listen to me. I value my faith because of how it makes me feel. It was clear Barack Obama doesn't get that, which makes me wonder just how faithful he is himself.

From my perspective and the perspective of many independent voters like myself, this debate was valuable and I see nothing wrong with the questions asked.

Lisa Naujoks

Brimfield, MA

Apr 19 2008 - 6:14pm

Web Letter

Although ABC is one of the worst of the worst in the election debate arena, it is not alone. The media that was once most superior in the world, representing the voice of the people, freedom of the press and the pillar of democracy, is nothing more than an Orwellian, scripted mouthpiece for the very wealthy and corrupt media moguls. Real News has become infomercials, fashion shows and movie star madness. The people we are supposed to be asking tough questions of are so thin-skinned, and act aghast when we want answers. Yes those who work for us treat us as though we are criminals, or unpatriotic for demanding truth, and results. We were once a proud nation who embraced our journalists. Journalism used to be an honorable career of free thinkers, and passionate truth-seekers. They, like our scientists, are being buried alive from tons of spin and lies, and bullied by Rovian tactics for the sake of the few, at the expense of the many. It is time we take our media back. Arundhati Roy says: "Either way, change will come. It could be bloody, or it could be beautiful. It depends on us."

Valerie Goodness

Eugene, OR

Apr 19 2008 - 6:04pm

Web Letter

If I were a candidate, this is what I would say to the debate moderators: "As members of the Fourth Estate, you should be concerned about what is important and substantive, with what really matters in the world. Many journalists seem to be suffering from some sort of pop culture disorder in which the excessive behavior of celebrities has become just as significant and important as major world events and how they relate to the lives of the average American citizen. For example, you seemed afraid to ask President Bush the kinds of critical questions that would require him to justify his argument for his Iraq war; and as Iraq descended into hell, the news reports fed to the American people descended into stupidity, with the endless barrage of celebrity stories practically taking over the news landscape. What kind of country IS this?"

Paul Rigmaiden

Modesto, CA

Apr 19 2008 - 3:23pm

Web Letter

This is pretty simple:

Two (or however many... just not eighteen!) candidates.

One moderator who, as the title implies, moderates the discussion. S/he has the power, up to turning off the candidate's microphone, to see that rules are obeyed.

Moderator controls who talks at all time. Moderator also controls how long candidates may talk. All controls are done in a manner that doesn't interrupt the discussion: silent buzzers, offstage signals, what have you.

After initial layout of rules, moderator is not seen again until end of debate. Not even the back of the head. Sorry, TV guys, this ain't about you. Moderator will only be heard if s/he warns a candidate that they are not obeying the rules.

One issue per debate, rather than a scattershot of issues.

Each candidate given three minutes initially to state their policies on the issue.

After this, it is up to the candidates to continue the discussion. They're all lawyers, they all know how to debate.

They are allowed to question each other's policies and the facts and opinions they use to support them.

All questions must be questions, rather than comments with a question mark tacked on the end.

Once queried, a candidate has as much time as necessary to respond.

Candidates wishing to interject signal the moderator, who decides when and if an interjection is allowed.

Moderator may take the floor away from any candidate at any time, for the following reasons:

1. Rehashing a stump speech rather than continuing the current thread of the debate.

2. Making a personal attack; every candidate knows how to questions another's opinion without attacking the other's person.

3. Resorting to emotional appeals "I was talking to a blind widow in Annapolis today who told me..." or pandering to voter groups rather than sticking to the issues and why they believe their policy will be effective.

4. And, of course, just talking too damn long.

It would be interesting to see if they could actually pull this off, since most of them probably haven't had to do this kind of debating since college.

If it got too hard, you could give an exemption every fifth or sixth debate, and they could go back to the stump speeches and personal attacks that everybody likes so much.

Sean Morrison

Milwaukee, WI

Apr 19 2008 - 12:59pm

Web Letter

I'm a grad student and adjunct lecturer at the City College of New York. I am instructing and will continue to instruct all of my students in English and Media Communications (film, advertising, public relations, journalism) to study the performances of Gibson and Stephanopoulos in last week's Democratic debate as a textbook example of the decline of the Fourth Estate in America into the sewer of stupidity and gossip, and a stern warning of the perils of allowing major media outlets to be owned by large corporations who prioritize profit over public service. And I use much more colorful language in class.

Steve Foster

New York, NY

Apr 19 2008 - 11:56am