Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

As a young person, I watched the League of Women Voters host presidential debates. They weren't sensational--they were structured and fair. Time was managed fairly; questions were fair because they were pertinent to the issues. They were questions about policy, not lapel pins.

I don't think the bias of the moderators should be glaringly evident. I don't think they should say whether they thought a candidate answered a question completely or to the moderators' satisfaction. There is no place for a debate moderator to express any opinion whatsoever. The purpose of the debate is to give the voters the information they need to make informed decisions at the polls.

If ABC and other major news sources want to be taken seriously by the American people, they need to go back to the basics of journalism. No bias, no analysis. Isn't that what the op-ed page is for?

Thank you for this opportunity to express my deep concerns about this debate in particular and journalism in general.

Kim Ryan

San Antonio, TX

Apr 18 2008 - 7:00pm

Web Letter

Meaningful debate to me is when the moderators give equal time to gauging the characters of the candidates. Not pile on a single candidate as in the case of Sen. Clinton in the past debates.

Lemuel Vargas

Raritan, NJ

Apr 18 2008 - 6:22pm

Web Letter

I agree wholeheartedly. Stephanopoulos should know better. He can't shake those Clinton years.

Tim Broderick

Dawsonville, GA

Apr 18 2008 - 4:22pm

Web Letter

The events featuring presidential candidates and news pundits are not debates. They are Q&A sessions with the pundits selecting the questions or topics. They underestimate the intelligence of the American people and are off the mark in terms of what Americans want to know about and hear. I was appalled by the topics raised by Gibson and Stephanopoulos during the Wednesday debate on NBC. The media is actively participating in spreading rumors. For example, I had never heard of Mr.Ayres until Stephanopolis asked about him. Stephanopolis has succeeded in planting doubt in the minds of many unaware TV viewers about Obama's association with a radical ex-Weatherman.


What's to be done? Get the pundits out of the business of moderating these so-called debates. They're only out to make headlines for themselves. Enough of Tim Russert's "gotcha games" and puerile questions of Stephanopoulos and Matthews. The media may label discussions led by the League of Women Voters or NPR OR PBS "boring," but for Americans seeking information, they are much more valuable.

I want to hear more about candidate's plans to reduce the impact of recession and restore our economy, position on government regulation of financial institutions, imports, exports, transportation, environment etc.; plans to improve schools and provide academic support and financial aid for needy students; how to fix Social Security, the prescription drug program for seniors etc. I would like to see candidates have adequate time to fully outline their positions on issues. The role of the moderator would be to help clarify the issue for the viewers. These discussions are not games to be played, entertainment, or contests, but genuine opportunities for the public to become informed about candidate's plans and viewpoints.

Let's stop pretending that what we are viewing are debates and give the viewers an opportunity through intelligent discussion to obtain the information they need to make one of the more critical decisions of our lifetimes about who is to become our next President.

Thanks for the opportunity to sound off!

Mary Kelly O'Donnell

Denver, CO

Apr 18 2008 - 3:39pm

Web Letter

A good debate requires minimal involvement by any third parties. There should be few rules and the moderator ought simply to do three things:

1. Enforce some degree of civility

2. Move the discussion along when it seems a subject is exhausted and...

3. When a subject is being dealt with superficially by both parties, encourage more depth.

If there is an insistence on a question format, past performance proves that regular citizens ask better questions.

Phil Merrill

Appleton, ME

Apr 18 2008 - 3:36pm

Web Letter

I would prefer the town hall format to a debate.

I think the questions should be chosen from submissions made by the citizens and put out on the web and in newspapers several weeks ahead of the meeting for the public to vote on. The most popular question(s) from the various categories would then be put to each candidate. The question would not necessarily be posed to both candidates since the questioning has been determined by whatever the overall voting population stated that needed to know about or from the individual candidate.

It's our country let us decide what we still need to know and want to ask!!

Nancy Mumm

Bluemont, VA

Apr 18 2008 - 3:10pm

Web Letter

What started out as an interesting, but too long, presidential campaign, turned into a sham when the networks took over everything, especially the so-called "debates."

I do not watch TV, so missed those and even some that were broadcast on the radio, so perhaps some will think what I say has no standing. I did read and hear enough excerpts to make me feel the way I do.

The biggest problem was allowing the debates to be run by the media corporations who have, I believe, different interests than the public. By their power to include or exclude, they create their own primary. By excluding certain candidates from the debates and giving them little press, they chose who the candidates will be.

They turned the campaign into a popularity contest, discussing policy only when they felt they needed a tiny bit of substance. For the most part, the moderators were awful, their questions without merit. From what I saw and heard, all the debates seemed more about the interviewers themselves, then the candidates and their ideas.

It appears to me that they wanted to make sure that Hillary and Obama were the finalists because, with them, the Republicans would have a better chance of winning the presidency. This seems especially true in the recent ABC fiasco.

One wonders where we are going as a country when people like David Brooks give ABC an A for the last debate, Hillary a B and Obama a D.

Ronald C. Andersen

Anchorage, AK

Apr 18 2008 - 2:52pm

Web Letter

Short and sweet--it's nice to know that Stephanopoulos and Gibson think that their viewers are a bunch of puerile morons whose interest is trivialities rather than substance.

I can't believe that--given all of the absurd things that have happened throughout the George W Bush years--the first thing I've been incensed enough to boycott is ABC News.

Nice job, fellas.

Chris Hoponick

Reston, VA

Apr 18 2008 - 2:43pm

Web Letter

debates looked good--because they bore some reflection to what was on the minds of a subset of actual likely voters, and was not a creation of the punditocracy.

It is clear what the public wants: substantive questions on core public concerns. Get the candidates off their preprogrammed talking points, but not with "gotcha" questions about media-overhyped, manufactured controversies.

Finally, technology allows near-real-time fact-checking of candidate claims. A team of researchers can feed moderators corrective information on the spot that candidates can be queried on; we don't have to wait for the post-debate analysis to learn that a candidate is misstating the facts.

Isaiah J. Poole

Washington, D.C.

Apr 18 2008 - 2:39pm

Web Letter

George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson passed the Fox News test. Senator Clinton added to the debasement of the event with a schadenfreude revelry she was hard-pressed to conceal.

The three of them make for an Axis of Shame.

William Abraham

Shelton, CT

Apr 18 2008 - 2:08pm