Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How to Fix the Political Debate Process

I admit it. I'm a certifiable political junkie who will literally watch two Chicago
Aldermen debate if I have the time. I simply love the dance. It's pure theater. The ultimate reality show. And sometimes it can be like watching Snooki and Angelina slug it out, except in business suits, behind a podium, and trading political barbs instead of expletive-laced Guidette-isms. Which is exactly why the process is broken and desperately in need of fixing.

Politicians today lie more than ever, because they've come to learn that the mainstream media cares little to prove them wrong. So they will say anything, to anyone, at any time if they think it strengthens their standing, weakens their opponents and demonizes them. And this disingenuous behavior is no more prevalent than on televised debates, where lie after calculated lie is hurled between the combatants, to the moderators and to voters watching at home. The recent Meg Whitman/Jerry Brown, Chris Coons/Christine O'Donnell, Harry Reid/Sharron Angle and Rand Paul/Jack Conway debates are prime examples of this truthiness epidemic.

But do debates have to be such truth-starved spectacles? Should politicians be allowed this forum to summarily dupe and deceive? Are the parties expected to just sit there like a bunch of saps as accusations are presented as fact without any verification whatsoever? How are voters supposed to make educated decisions about whom to vote for if candidates' lies go unchecked? Without such verification these political debates are useless. Unless of course it's the Snookiness of it all you're looking for.

Which brings us to the fix; how to make debates truly meaningful in the election process. It's really quite simple: research and verify, right there on the spot. Why can't the sponsor/host, whoever it may be such as CNN, PBS, Fox or some University, have a bank of fact-checkers in the studio, sitting like telephone operators at a telethon, next to the moderator's table? With online research tools available like Google and Lexus-Nexis, how difficult would it be to spend a few minutes digging for the truth each time there's a material dispute about a candidate's record? In Jerry Seinfeld's new show "The Marriage Ref" a reputable journalist fact-checker sits on-stage and does just that. Does our political process not deserve the same respect for the truth?

Here's how the revised debate system would work: let's say candidate A claims candidate B voted for or against a critical bill. Or perhaps candidate B claims candidate A made a controversial position statement in the past. Or one accuses the other of having some sort of embarrassing skeleton in the closet. Rather than listening to several minutes of he-said/she-said accusations and denials, without it ever being conclusively proven, how about conclusively proving it? At the beginning of each debate the moderator would announce a format such as this:

"In the first 75-minutes of tonight's debate, each candidate will have two minutes to answer a question, which will then be followed up with a 30-sec rebuttal by the other. The candidate will then have 30 seconds to answer the opponent's rebuttal. The final 15 minutes will consist of the findings of our fact-checking team, seated to my right, of each disputed item, at which time you will have an opportunity to address the results and acknowledge any mistakes and clarify them as well. You will then each get a one-minute closing statement. So we urge you to pay close attention to accuracy, as we will be uncovering the truth behind any controversial statements and accusations. Now let's begin..."

Imagine a debate where politicians knew going in that they'd be caught red-handed with their hands in the bullshit jar if they operated business as usual. Imagine a debate where the media actually did it's job in digging for the truth rather than play marginalized ringmaster in a political sideshow.

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Anonymous said...

Yup, I'm with YOU! This kind of verification is SO needed! Without the truth, how can our democracy survive? As long as voting decisions are based on falsehoods, we are in TROUBLE!

Anonymous said...

But what happens when the moderator freezes out and censors certain candidates like Dennis Kucinich during the Democratic Presidential Debates.

How do you fact check silence?

Kevin Schmidt