portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reposts portland metro

media criticism | political theory

The unNatural History of PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

Summary? The sum of this article (garnered from googling "presidential debate definition") equals one part Absolutely Unacceptable Past and one part Rapidly Deteriorating Present (with a dash of vomit - oops! excuse me! did that get on your computer? Sorry)
Control of the presidential debates has been a ground of struggle for at least twenty years. The role was filled by the nonpartisan League of Women Voters (LWV) civic organization in 1976, 1980 and 1984. In 1987, the LWV withdrew from debate sponsorship, in protest of the major party candidates attempting to dictate nearly every aspect of how the debates were conducted. On October 2nd, 1988, the LWV's 14 trustees voted unanimously to pull out of the debates, and on October 3rd, they issued a blistering press release:

"The League of Women Voters is withdrawing sponsorship of the presidential debates ... because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter. It has become clear to us that the candidates' organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public."

The two major political parties created the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) to replace the LWV and, in 1988, conducted the debates on exactly the same terms that the LWV deemed fraudulent. The CPD is headed by former chairs of the Republican and Democratic parties. They have controlled the debates in 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000.

In 2004, the Citizens' Debate Commission (CDC) was formed to challenge control by the Democratic and Republican parties and attempt to return the debates to control by an independent, nonpartisan, rather than bipartisan, body. Chief concerns include the CPD's deliberate exclusion of third party and independent candidates and shutting out critical issues on which there is either bipartisan agreement or complicity in avoiding the topic.
Control of the presidential debates has been a ground of struggle for at least twenty years. The role was filled by the nonpartisan League of Women Voters (LWV) civic organization in 1976, 1980 and 1984. In 1987, the LWV withdrew from debate sponsorship, in protest of the major party candidates attempting to dictate nearly every aspect of how the debates were conducted. On October 2nd, 1988, the LWV's 14 trustees voted unanimously to pull out of the debates, and on October 3rd, they issued a blistering press release:

The League of Women Voters is withdrawing sponsorship of the presidential debates ... because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter. It has become clear to us that the candidates' organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.

The two major political parties created the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) to replace the LWV and, in 1988, conducted the debates on exactly the same terms that the LWV deemed fraudulent. The CPD is headed by former chairs of the Republican and Democratic parties. They have controlled the debates in 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000.

In 2004, the Citizens' Debate Commission (CDC) was formed to challenge control by the Democratic and Republican parties and attempt to return the debates to control by an independent, nonpartisan, rather than bipartisan, body. Chief concerns include the CPD's deliberate exclusion of third party and independent candidates and shutting out critical issues on which there is either bipartisan agreement or complicity in avoiding the topic.
An attempt by the Bush and Kerry campaigns to require that the four moderators of the upcoming debates sign statements saying they've "accepted" the rules drawn up by the campaigns is causing concern among some experts in journalism ethics.
Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer says he'll abide by the request to sign statement.

The stipulation that moderators for the three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate must accept and sign the rules comes at the end of a 32-page "memorandum of understanding" that details rules agreed to by the campaigns. It was reached in talks between the campaigns and posted on their Web sites this week. If any of the moderators decline to sign, the memorandum states that the campaigns could "agree upon and select a different individual to moderate that debate." Whether the campaigns would enforce that provision is unclear.
The rules cover many issues, including ones as detailed as the exact height of the lecterns to be used at two of the presidential debates (50 inches). They stipulate that audience questioners at the "town hall" debate Oct. 8 in St. Louis must have their questions pre-selected by moderator Charles Gibson of ABC. He is to "cut off" anyone who changes his or her question.