Monday, June 09, 2008

Obama, McCain: TV Anchors Away

The candidates are opting out of the "let's you and him fight" format of the TV networks for presidential debates.

In rejecting a "town hall" proposed by ABC News and New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, they must be thinking of the April Democratic debate that ended up with the audience booing moderators Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos followed by widespread criticism for inciting an hour of nasty trivia. (Tom Shales of the Washington Post pasted the ABC anchors for "shoddy, despicable performances.")

Obama's spokesman said, “Both campaigns indicate that any additional appearances will be open to all networks for broadcast on TV or Internet like the presidential commission debates, rather than sponsored by a single network or news organization.”

McCain's spokesman said, "Both campaigns agree the town hall meetings will be open to press but not sponsored or moderated by the press."

The candidates are invoking the Lincoln-Douglas debates as a model but are not likely to embrace that format of a half-hour of oratory for one side, followed by an hour for the other and another half-hour of rebuttal.

That may have worked out for the single subject of slavery, but there are too many domestic and foreign-policy issues this year for such a formal approach.

What voters can hope for is a setting in which they ask the questions and the candidates respond to them and each other with substantive civility rather than the gotcha sound bites the TV networks want.

If the campaigns mean what they say, this year's presidential debates won't be an extension of "American Idol" and the survival tests of reality TV.

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