Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Perspective of a White Male on the Democratic Debate

I know the Democratic debate that took place in Philadelphia tonight on MSNBC may not have swept the television ratings, especially since it seems like the presidential candidates have a debate once every two hours in this never ending primary season. However, I wanted to use my soap box to give my two cents:

[I'll save the spin on the individual candidates for the professionals, but in brief: Hillary didn't shine, which would have been hard anyway because she was the other candidates' punching bag all night, but on first blush she also didn't make any glaring mistakes; Edwards came out fighting and did a good job of it; Obama seemed to stutter a lot and took a distant second to Edwards' assertiveness; Biden had some great lines; Dodd was pretty much irrelevant; Richardson should get rid of his hair piece because it's distracting; and Kucinich won the vote of the 14% of Americans who claim to have spotted a UFO when he admitted that he's seen one too.]

What I found most outrageous about the whole debate was the moderators: Tim Russert and Brian Williams. Besides asking convoluded questions that failed to engage the candidates until the waning minutes of the debate, it was absurd that the two moderators were both white male news anchors. Since the debate moderators are essentially acting as the questioning voice of the voters, it's important that they bring a range of perspectives and vocalize the different concerns that voters are struggling with. On stage and on camera, however, Russert and Williams exposed the news media as lacking both diversity and creativity, especially in the media's upper echelons, where white males rank supreme. And, it's not like MSNBC didn't have other moderator options. Tim Russert is generally a good choice since politics is his speciality on his Sunday morning show Meet the Press. The superior questions he asked reflected on this experience. But instead of nightly news anchor Brian Williams, the Today Show's Meredith Vieira, Ann Curry or even weatherman Al Roker would have been good choices. It's not like moderating a debate is rocket science: ask a few questions, keep the candidates on their toes and make sure none of them hog the spotlight for too long while also getting the time to say their piece. Alternatively, MSNBC could have made more of an effort to find a moderator that doesn't actually work on one of their regular newscasts.

Judging by the long winded questions that Russert, and especially Williams asked, they clearly enjoyed hearing the sounds of their own voices too much. They also totally dropped the ball when they tried having a few "lightning rounds" where candidates only had 30 seconds to answer a question. For this to work the questions have to be straight and to the point and the candidates have to be cut off when time runs out or else everyone will feel entitled to transition into their stump speeches. Russert & Williams failed on both counts, especially since most of their questions took more than 30 seconds just to ask.

The best part of the debate came in the last few minutes when the moderators asked direct questions, allowed the candidates to spar with one another and even injected some humor into the show by asking Kucinich to confirm that he had in fact spotted a UFO (yes, but it didn't necessarily involve aliens) and Obama what he was planning on dressing up as for Halloween (probably as Mitt Romney). By then, however, most viewers were already tuning out and gearing up for the next Democratic debate in two short weeks from now on CNN, featuring, of course, CNN's white male news anchor, Wolf Blitzer.

3 Comments:

At 10/31/2007 3:09 AM, Anonymous G Davis said...

Why would you object to the moderators (or anyone for that matter) asking tough questions to our candidates?

How are we ever going to truly know who we want to lead us through the mire of extremely seriously problems ahead of us if we don't get some straight answers from the folks that want to lead us?

This isn't about male/female black/white...it's about how we, as a country, get out of the mess we're in and who we trust most to lead us.

So I applaud the moderators asking tough, politically incorrectly direct questions of these people. And as a woman, I resent the suggestion that the men should have been kinder on HRC...she can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

She wants to lead, she'd best answer the straight, tough questions.

 
At 10/31/2007 12:50 PM, Blogger Ariel Glasner said...

I absolutely don't object to the moderators asking tough questions; if anything I think they threw too many softballs out to the candidates. And, I agree with your assessment of Hillary that she needs to be able to confront the heat like any other candidate would in the front runner position, or else she shouldn't be there.

The second part of the debate - especially the lightning round - was riddled however with ineffective questions. Like this one, from Brian Williams who had just introduced the concept of the 30 second answer per candidate: "Most experts believe we're looking at $100 a barrel oil prices, perhaps very soon. Most experts further believe there are some folks in America who may be paying 50 percent more for things like heating oil this winter, let's say where winters are difficult in two states that come to mind, Iowa and New Hampshire, say nothing of your home state of Connecticut. As a member of the U.S. Senate, are these people doomed to paying more, to suffering through these energy costs this winter, Senator? Aside from blue-ribbon panels, what can be done right now about what afflicts the United States on this issue of energy?" The 4% tax surcharge question that Russert followed up with lacked substance because it had one obvious answer ("No, I'm not prepared to commit to Charlie Rangel's 4% surcharge tax on the wealthy.")

More importantly, having two moderators of the same ilk conferred no obvious advantage on the debate format and also meant that no questions were asked about issues like race and gender. For instance, why wasn't a question asked about the candidates' position on the death penalty or about the Jenna 6 controversy or about immigration into America from a moderator who was herself an immigrant or the child of immigrants?

 
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