An open letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates

Dear Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr. and Michael D. McCurry,

Like many Americans I am interested in the direction of the country. Others have said they are “concerned,” and still others “burdened.” Still others claim this 2012 presidential election is the most important in the history of the republic.

denver 2012 debate

The Denver presidential debate, October 2012 [Image credit]


You cannot be ignorant of the reality that the presidential debates help frame how voters view the candidates each presidential election cycle. Indeed, this is part of the reason for your existence. Your mission, in part, is that the Commission should:

provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners. Its primary purpose is to sponsor and produce debates for the United States presidential and vice presidential candidates and to undertake research and educational activities relating to the debates.

I am writing this open letter to address some concerns I have, concerns that may be shared by others. It seems these might be addressed through your organization.

Your bi-partisan make-up does not translate to the moderator phase of the debate. This silly idea of an unbiased moderator has created a pill too big for most of America to swallow. Following the most recent debates Jim Lehrer was demonized by the Left for being too passive (milquetoast was used by one liberal communicator), Martha Raddatz was slammed by some conservatives for her repeated interruptions of Paul Ryan, and Candy Crowley has all but admitted to assisting one of the participants, President Obama, by “correcting” Mitt Romney on a point of fact. (This, notes Canadian journalist David Akin, was not within the bounds of her assigment.)

Clearly, you have problems with this debate structure. The October 22 debate, moderated by Bob Scheiffer, holds little promise for a cure.

These debates would be more effective if the moderators were specifically chosen because of their bias or biases. Without a semblance of being non-partisan viewers would be better prepared to anticipate questions and reactions. Informed viewers are not deceived by such a fraudulent presentation, but viewers depending on the debates to fully inform their decisions stand in danger of deception.

No one would consider Sean Hannity or Laura Ingraham unbiased, but as I present it they would need not pretend they are. Rachel Maddow or Chris Matthews? Liberal as they can get, but at least it would be in the open. John Stossel or Neal Boortz as Libertarian leaners would disrupt the narrative major party candidates and the moderators tend to inhabit.

One from the Left, one from the Right, one from the Outside, and, finally, a college level debate professor as moderator. It is interesting these debates feel so much different than educational or philosophical debates. After watching many debates online, I have found the role of the moderator is to read the rules, ring the bell, keep the time, signal transitions, thank the participants and attendees, and announce the end. The moderator should disappear, not take center stage.

Also, at this stage of our country’s history requiring a candidate to poll at 15% before being invited to participate is appallingly controlling and unnecessarily exclusive. Even when they are included in five major polls (as you require) the results are rarely included by any major media. For all intents and purposes the media presents two–and only two–candidates for the presidency. You follow this problematic path since you are controlled by the same two parties.

The major parties do not have all the answers. In fact the debates reveal all-too-clearly their representative candidates have fewer and fewer answers as time rolls on. America would be better served be allowing candidates from qualifying third parties to participate. Requiring the candidate to have at least a statistical possibility of winning the electoral college (by getting on enough state ballots) would allow the Libertarian or Green candidate, for instance, without having to admit the Ball in High Weeds candidate. Keep the your latter requirement, but drop the first.

Your website says,

The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was established in 1987 to ensure that debates, as a permanent part of every general election, provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners.

As long as you continue to wall-off non-major party candidates you are failing to provide the “best possible information” to us.

Please fix this. Your model is broken. What you are trying to accomplish is admirable and appreciated. What you are actually accomplishing is short of that goal. You should strive for more.

We the people may not deserve it, but we need it.

If you agree share this post on social media. You can also email this post to the Commission on Presidential Debates: comments [at] debates [dot] org

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

2 Pingbacks/Trackbacks