It’s popular to blame “the media” for much of the world’s troubles: cultural decline, celebration of celebrity, negative news, etc. Survey after survey shows many Americans believe reporters are biased, so it’s become good politics to bash those working in media.
This was especially true after last week’s debate in which “candidates were highly critical of the CNBC crew, accusing them of being part of the ‘liberal media,’” wrote Emily Atkin of Think Progress. “At one point, Ted Cruz ripped into the moderators for asking what he called unfair and non-substantive questions. And in two instances, audience members actually booed at questions the moderators asked of Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee.” Even other media types ripped into CNBC; everyone from Anderson Cooper to Stephen Colbert criticized the debate and its seemingly poor preparation, nonsense questions and bias.
Today’s televised debates aren’t really debates by definition; they’ve become opportunities for candidates to attempt to break through the media clutter by creating potential sound bites. The sponsoring media organizations use these political showcases as ratings-getting entertainment, not true public discourse on what matters most.
I have a not-so-novel proposal for improved, more substantive debates. Say there are 10 candidates on stage. Each candidate gets to pick a topic and select any other candidate to debate. The two then have five minutes to discuss that topic with no interruptions. Then Candidate 2 picks a different candidate and does the same. This goes on until each candidate has debated someone; then there’s a round two with different candidates picking different topics and other candidates to debate. A moderator would make sure time is kept and everyone plays fair.
If the politicians are responsible for the questions, there can be no accusations of media bias. We might even hear real questions and significant answers rather than the silliness we’ve been experiencing. Yes, this proposal would have its drawbacks and the format would need to be refined, but I’m up for anything that’ll make the debates more substantive. Public relations practitioners count on transparency and clarity to influence audience attitudes. So should politicians. Your thoughts?