Here's the Thing - Commentary by Jaci Clement, Fair Media Council

Here’s the Thing About Political Debates


After years of outsized spectacle theatre masquerading as political debate in this country, the modest staging for the Cuomo-Nixon debate at Hofstra University provided the perfect backdrop to witness a journalistic renaissance.

Debates aren’t supposed to be about hooplah and merchandising. They’re supposed to be about questions, asked by journalists who press for direct answers. CBS2’s Maurice DuBois and Marcia Kramer did just that and accomplished far more.

By now, you’ve seen enough news coverage of the debate to know it was spirited. Yet, despite a raucous audience and continuous interruptions, DuBois seamlessly guided the debate at a controlled pace. He and Kramer asked question after question, gleaned from what New Yorkers wanted to know. When empty soundbites and political spin filled the air, they asked the same question again. Sometimes, even a third time. And they got answers.

Political debates throughout the age of political correctness have tread lightly on how far should a journalist go in his or her questioning before it appears disrespectful. That all-important follow-up question to be asked an evasive (or clearly lying) candidate? It’s hovered on extinction during the last few election cycles. Along with it, fact-checking seldom reported for duty, too. Things got even worse after those town hall-style events came along, featuring pre-approved audience members asking pre-approved questions. Perhaps this is where we hit rock bottom. After all, It used to be the actual television format that was blamed for low-quality debates.

Back to the issue of respect: At this moment in time, with the press as the “enemy of the people” campaign continues to garner headlines and fill Twitter feeds, it was imperative that DuBois and Kramer illustrate how repeated questioning does not equate to disrespect. Rather, it highlighted journalism for its importance and succeeded in bringing meaning to the exercise of political debating.

That’s something that’s been missing for a very long time and it’s here, in local and statewide races, where local news — which outranks national news on credibility scales — must lead the way in the rebirth of a better brand of journalism for America.

— Jaci Clement

CEO & Executive Director

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