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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Open letter to Molly Ball of the Atlantic

I have enjoyed your reporting in the Atlantic and comments on the Diane Rehm show, but I was a bit dismayed by the dismissive attitude of you and your colleagues with regard to presidential debates being a “for-pay” event only.  Certainly this is something the media would want to abhor. Have we become so blase and cynical that no one cares any more that a substantial portion of the population cannot watch a debate among candidates running for elective office?  It would seem this is one area where pressure from the media would be non-partisan and a very important issue to promote. What I fear is that the debates formats have been devised in such a way to showcase the moderators rather than those running for office.  A well moderated debate will have watchers walking away discussing the candidates rather than the moderators, perhaps not even knowing their names.

If the media were really serious -- and I think you and some of your colleagues are -- about having substantive discussions, you need to organize and promote such an event.  Were I moderating a discussion, I’d have one or two questions prepared (a couple of examples are below) -- they could even be given to the candidates in advance -- and give each one 4-5 minutes to expound on that topic and then allow all of the others to weigh in on each other's proposals to create substantive give and take and to highlight differences. The role of the moderator would then simply be to make sure the candidates didn;t interrupt each other and everyone had a chance to speak.  I suspect such a format would separate the serious candidates from the rest very quickly.

You might argue that such thinking is naive at best, or would even create a boring show.  Perhaps, but if the “debates” are merely to entertain with gotcha questions for the twitter feed of the night, we’ve seriously lowered the quality of media and our democracy.  Let’s not always underestimate the intelligence of the American people.  Who but the media can hope to change the tone and character of these events? Surely not all of you have succumbed to the desire for easy fame and fortune through the celebrity route.

Some minor examples, I’m sure serious journalists could come up with better ones:

1.  The GOP would seem to be the party favoring allotting power to the states more than the federal government.  As president, what issues are properly the role of the federal government and which belong to the states? How would you go about making changes in that allocation of power.

2.  Key for any president is his/her ability to gain a majority in the House and Senate for legislation. What skills do you bring to the table in order to gain those majorities and what should the role of compromise be in that?

3.  Several former government officials have discussed the "shadow governments" that exist within our large bureaucracy, for example a rogue CIA or other department that manages to make its own policy.  How would you identify and address that concern?

4.  The president has to hire a lot of people and will have to delegate much of that role to others.  How would you go about making sure that the people you hire are on board with your theory of government?

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