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.
by Tracy Westen
This post was sent as a comment from Tracy Westen, the founder of The Democracy Network, to my post on how poor the current scheme is for the Republican televised debates. It is reposted here, with the permission of the author, to be more accessible.