Tag Archive: Debates

The New Format fallacy

Back this summer, as part of his less-than-subtle attempt to tell American journalism how to fix itself, Aaron Sorkin inserted his vision of an idealized debate into last year’s Republican primary. The whole thing turned into a case study in how much better The Newsroom was at identifying the problems in modern journalism than it was at coming up with solutions, and how the show managed to be half-right and yet go horribly wrong. But considering what did and didn’t work in this week’s real presidential debate, it’s worth taking another look.

I mentioned right after the debate that I thought its biggest problem was the disengaged approach from moderater Jim Lehrer. That mattered more than usual because this debate actually did include a kind of revolutionary new format, which mostly did away with the tightly structured response times we’re used to from previous presidential debates. It’s a promising trend, but it means we really do need the moderator to play a more agressive role.


Where’s the beef?

When I was in high school, and a little bit in college, I took a few turns in my school’s debate club. It was fun, since I like arguing, but I ended up drifting away from it for a couple of reasons. One, I wasn’t that great at it. Two, it turns out that figuring out an objective way to score an argument ends up taking a lot of the fun out of it.

I’m thinking about this because we’ve reached that time in every presidential campaign where I remember why I hate the debates. It’s not that the debates themselves are bad — they’re not great, but they really are the one of the best chances you get to see the candidates argue for their ideas. What bothers me is that the ideas are generally the farthest thing from anyone’s mind.