Tuesday, October 15, 2002
Three's a crowdThe New York Times editorial board is annoyed because candidates George Pataki and Frank Lautenberg are insisting that debates for the upcoming election include all the candidates on the ballot.
Mr. Pataki and Mr. Lautenberg should get real, and do the voters the courtesy of allowing at least one meaningful face-off between the two major party candidates.Now, there's some validity to the argument that a debate with six or seven candidates is unwieldy. In a one or two hour period, having that many people speak means that each one is allotted only a short amount of time.
But given the Times' holier-than-thou attitude towards "voter choice" and "democracy," for them to take the stance that the voters should be denied the opportunity to hear from the majority of the candidates on the ballot raises hypocrisy to unprecedented levels. Obviously it is unlikely that any of these candidates will win anything -- but such an upset victory becomes a lot more likely if the Times doesn't treat all the extra candidates like jokes who shouldn't be wasting everyone's time by running. Certainly at least one of the third party candidates in these races, Tom Golisano, has the resources needed to run a competitive election, so there's no excuse for keeping him out of the debate.
Besides, let's get real: these "debates," whether with two or six candidates, are not sacred rites. They're not even debates at all. They're joint press conferences. (And yes, I know they said this on The West Wing last week. But I've been saying it for years.) Each participant gets a minuscule amount of time to respond to a vague question from a media member, and gives a canned reply which doesn't actually address the issues raised. Then the other candidate gives an even shorter pre-crafted "rebuttal" which doesn't address the first candidate's statements. Rinse, lather, repeat. With scripted "spontaneous" jokes thrown in for good measure.
If the Times wants to be constructive, it ought to promote more debates, in a format which demands long, thoughtful answers, in a format in which the moderators can force the participants to actually answer the questions posed. Otherwise, what's the point?
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