Presidential Debates: ‘A Glimmer In The Vast Wasteland’ Of TV

By Alex Weprin 

In today’s New York Times, former FCC Chairman Newton Minow writes about the Presidential debates. Minow serves on the Commission for Presidential Debates.

The debates are an institution now, and among the most watched television events in America. They are one place in the modern campaign — perhaps the only place — where the voter is treated with respect. They are the one time when the major candidates appear together side by side under conditions they do not control. They are a relief from the nasty commercials that dominate the campaign, fed by donations that are effectively unlimited and anonymous. Broadcasters provide the television time for the debates, without commercials, as a rare public service.

While the debate may be very high-minded, the analysis and spin is not. As Kevin Drum persuasively argues in Mother Jones, the post-debate analysis can have a significant impact on how voters viewers the candidates.

This is why I always try to write up my thoughts on debates and speeches without listening to any commentary first. If I don’t, it’s nearly impossible to disentangle my own thoughts from those I’ve heard from the TV commentators. That way lies groupthink.

CJR suggests that news outlets covering the debates have a reporter write up their analysis without watching any of the TV punditry.

Finally, Deadline Hollywood notes that Disney/Dreamworks are spending millions to buy ad time during the debate tonight. The studio is promoting the upcoming film Lincoln, from director Steven Spielberg.  An extended two-minute trailer will air during the debate tonight on Disney-owned ABC, CBS and CNN.