Stop the Televised Debates and Shift to the Internet

The Republican debates are about to occur on television in ways that will provide an unfair advantage to the chosen ten, and undermine the campaign of at least six other candidates. Exposure of lesser known candidates on televised debates can make a significant difference.* Since there are viable alternatives to television determining the fate of the Republican primaries, they should be considered.

The Internet has no news hole. There is no limit of the number of candidates who could respond simultaneously, and on video, to the same questions. You could even include the Democratic Party candidates – why not? Ask all contenders the same questions. Simultaneously live stream their responses, and let the press and the votes pick and choose which candidates to view, and how to compare and contrast their responses. As they will be saved, some voters could look at all responses to the question of most interest to them, or look at all the responses of the candidates they want to know more about.

This idea was one aspect of The Democracy Network, developed by Tracy Westen, when he was President of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, and of The Democracy Network, during the early years of the Web.** His basic idea was that the issue positions of all candidates for all issues can be available on the Web, while television and the newspapers can only cover a selected set of candidates and issues, since they are limited by time and column inches, respectively.

This is clearly an opportunity to use the Interent to more fairly represent all the candidates in the primaries. Closer to the election, as the list grows shorter, a live televised debate could then be considered and be done in a fair way that does not put the media in the role of kingmaker.

* For example, see this study of Britain’s televised leadership debates: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1778442

** See: http://www.ifp.illinois.edu/nabhcs/abstracts/westen.html

4 thoughts on “Stop the Televised Debates and Shift to the Internet

  1. The role of the internet in debates will inevitably grow with the audience. Part of the problem is that we have a horribly imbalanced age-demographic weighted heavily towards the pre-internet age. Consequently our politics are primarily pre-internet… and young voters are routinely marginalized.

    Sooner or later, though, this problem will sort itself out I think.

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  2. Televised presidential debates are stuck in the past. The networks televised the first presidential debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. Despite the passage of over a half a century, television has not significantly improved its debate formats. And though we are now deeply into the third decade of the Internet/Web revolution, this digital technology has also failed to develop new ways to present presidential debates.

    But imagine the following: A coalition of news organizations creates a single website for presidential candidates and gives each of them an individual password. Each candidate uploads biographical information, newspaper editorials, endorsements, copies of print, radio and TV ads, speeches and other video materials to their section of the site.

    Most importantly, each candidate picks a number of issues (e.g., “Iranian Nuclear Deal”) and uploads a video comment on that issue to the “debate” section of the site. Each candidate can follow up with rebuttal videos to each or all of the other candidates, then upload further rebuttals, and so on.

    Viewers can click on any two candidates and watch their video comments and rebuttals in sequence, as each replies to the other. Voters can upload their comments or pose specific questions to the candidates, and the candidates can reply to selected questions — in textual or video formats. Nightly TV newscasts can discuss the debates, feature short clips from the candidates and highlight significant points or factual inaccuracies.

    Or casting our vision further into the future: A voter can ask her TV/Computer (“Siri”) a question, such as “What is Hilary Clinton’s position on the minimum wage?” The computer’s Intelligent Agent can instantly search the Internet, synthesize an answer from Ms. Clinton’s prior recorded comments, then deliver them in video, audio or textual formats. This would allow voters to ask candidates their own questions, from their homes or their mobile devices, and receive personalized answers: “Well, Tracy, unlike the other candidates, I believe we should….”

    The Internet, in other words, could bring presidential debates into the living room, or to any mobile device, and allow voters to stage their own candidate debates, or conduct their own candidate interviews.

    All that is needed is the creative energy to visualize and implement new ways the Internet can be used to advance the quality of presidential debates.

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