Debate Club

Friday, April 18, 2008


Media were awash with charges this week that ABC News hosted little more than a gossipy game-show masquerading as a debate. Or maybe co-moderator George Stephanopoulos posed important questions that cut to the heart of electibility, as he later claimed. Either way, what did you learn that you'll take to the ballot box? Project for Excellence in Journalism associate director Mark Jurkowitz says that if the goal was to inform voters then ABC largely failed.

Comments [17]

Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

I hate to admit it, but I think Angela Cooke and P Baur are correct. Charlie and George gave the public what they wanted.

You can condemn them for it, but they are merely in search of ratings. There is no Murrow, Cronkite, or even a deeply flawed Jennings in charge, it's Disney!

Apr. 24 2008 11:47 PM
Allyn Stone from Southern Oregon

Thanks very much for this discussion. It's a relief to hear an honest analysis of what ABC did the other night. To see such a powerful media company behave so irresponsibly was deeply troubling. In fact, it has me worried about our chances of having a fair election this time.
This was a Democratic forum held at a critical time for our country. It needed to focus on issues of concern to Democratic voters who are about to cast their ballots, rather than following a list of petty right-wing talking points. I am certain ABC would never have disrespected GOP candidates by lobbing left-wing smears at them in a Republican primary debate. The underlying message seems to be that the conservative Republican world view is correct, and Democrats must fit themselves into that frame -- even during a primary.
With regard to the preceding comments, I especially agree with commenters #3, #6 and #9.

Apr. 22 2008 10:16 AM
Roberta McNair from Gig Harbor, WA

"Rather also defined news as what is important for people to know, what they need to know, and what somebody, somewhere doesn't want them to know."

Oops! I meant viewers, not users.

Apr. 20 2008 09:34 PM
Roberta McNair from Gig Harbor, WA

"Journalists" like Gibson and Stephanopoulos are perpetuating what I think has become an egg/chicken situation: Voters are concerned with hot-button minutia, and so journalists ask questions about this minutia. But voters who rely on the MSM for their news learn about the hot-button minutia—and little but the hot-button minutia—and that's what becomes the concern.

How about Gibson and Stephanopoulos paving a path upwards by asking the candidates about spiraling food prices, declining quality of education, and the unintended consequences of embracing biofuels. These things affect all Americans, and I betcha the answers would have users riveted.

Apr. 20 2008 09:32 PM
PBaur from TN

Dear Brooke,
You mentioned that the American flag pin issue isn't a mainstream issue... I think it may be, but the real question is, can't we find a bit more scientific way to find out beyond your own assumptions. Many commentators and show hosts like yourself can appear biased with such comments without any support. Having grown up in Philadelphia, I attended college and worked in Ohio, moved back to Philly and am now in Tennessee. Based on my own experience, I believe you may be surprised at how many folks feel quite differently than you.
Love you show!

Apr. 20 2008 07:02 PM
EMarie from South Carolina

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder"--so is a certain ability to distinguish facts from blather. I'm tired of the constant emphasis on Obama's rhetoric skills. His ability to charm audiences into thinking he will wave a magic wand in Washington and everything will "change" is like believing in the tooth fairy. Clinton has shown an ability as New York's senator to work across the aisles, something noted in NYC papers before she even began this campaign. Issues of sexism are coming to the fore as shown by those who insist upon portraying her in all kinds of negative terms. I didn't watch the debate from beginning to end but when I did turn to watch I thought her remarks were level-headed and thoughtful.

Apr. 20 2008 04:38 PM
Angela Cooke from Charlotte, NC

Your show expressed some disbelief that a large proportion of ordinary voters would be concerned about "image" questions; such as lapel pins and Bosnia sniping. While I agree that this focus is frivolous and I wish people would focus on issues, my experience has been that the image questions are the real focus amongst ordinary voters.

I tend to hang out with a very political crowd and we do talk about the issues frequently but, when I move outside of that crowd, I have found that most of the people to whom I have spoken are fixated on the stupid little details. "Is Obama, OMG, Muslim?" "Obama didn't put his hand on his heart during the National Anthem!!" "Hillary lied about Bosnia!!!" "McCain's nickname in highschool was Punk!!!!" It goes on and on. It is very disheartening.

For those of you out there who don't think this is a huge focus of public opinion, I encourage you to talk to strangers about politics (somewhere away from the political rallies you are attending). I think you may find that the American public is, in fact, disturbingly focused on the stupid little details.

Even more disturbing, these same people are taking their prejudices to the polls. Wow, starts to put the purpose of Superdelegates in a new light, doesn't it?

Apr. 20 2008 04:28 PM

There are some people's in the media like FOX AND ABC where friend's talk to each other do this for me. WE SEEEE WHAT GOING ON STOP IT KIDS.

Apr. 20 2008 03:35 PM
Joseph Bell from New York

Stephanopoulos and some spinmeisters claim that the questions posed are "tough" and "important" questions. Nonsense, many of us saw these as trivial questions. It's particularly galling that this travesty comes at a time when the nation is engaged in two wars, the economy is in the tank, oil prices are sky-high and global warming is manifest.
We will have the government that we deserve only if we insist on a campaign based on issues. The Childrens Hour is over, put the kiddies to bed and lets discuss and decide the things that really matter to America regardless of partisan considerations.

Apr. 20 2008 02:24 PM
Lenore from New York City

Why are most of these comments about the flag pin??

I have a different question--have either of these candidates been asked in any of the debates whether they will torture detainees? If they have been asked that, when? If they haven't, why not?

Apr. 20 2008 11:32 AM
Shawn from Vermont

To Dallas Staples:
When you put something in quotes you need to make sure that it is a DIRECT QUOTE. Can you provide the source for that quote? I suspect you can't.

From an ABC news source (link below), this is what Obama said:
"You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin," Obama said. "Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we're talking about the Iraq War, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest. "Instead," he said, "I'm going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism."

Hopefully you can represent the quote & intent more accurately from now on.

Apr. 20 2008 10:08 AM
Anne from Vienna, VA

Excellent report. The best I have seen or heard on the public lynching we witnessed on Wednesday night. I also was surprised that your report failed to mention that Ms. McCabe has been on TV before and also in the NYT with this same question. Of course, I was stunned that Sen. Obama did not mention that Sen. McCain does not wear a flag pin, that only one of the Republicans at their first debate wore a flag pin (Tancredo), that neither George nor Charlie had on flag pins, and that Sen. Clinton does not wear flag pins on her lapels. Of course, if Obama had just worn the pin that the veteran had given him the day before, all this would have been moot, no? And I must say with regard to the comments that in earlier debates Sen. Clinton had taken most of the flak, none of the questions she received went to her integrity as a person or to her core values. In addition, none of them were "fringe" like these were. Had Obama gotten one or two such questions, ok. But four in a row? And left unasked were the major issues one could have asked of Sen, Clinton, like the Columbia trade issue or the general negativity of her campaign, or her failure to say definitively that Sen. Obama is Christian, or her and her husband's assertions that Sen. Obama is not ready to be CinC. Or her inisistence on going after the NAFTA issue when the Canadian journalists and the Canadian government have declared it false (and in fact, noted that her campaign contacted them about it themselves).

Apr. 19 2008 08:07 PM

Why does no one mention that neither John McCain nor Hillary Clinton wear flag pins?

Apr. 19 2008 07:49 PM
m from Brooklyn

I thought that this was finally the first debate where Barack Obama was treated as the front runner that he is. Hillary Clinton has been getting nailed with tough questions for over 6 months now. If he can't take the heat he should get out of the kitchen. By the way, neither of them looked good in this segment. When the questions finally got to some real issues she was sharp as she usually is and he was all over the place.

Apr. 19 2008 12:20 PM
Gene Roman from Bronx, NY

I thought Mark Jurkowitz's review of the debate was right on target. Our job as reporters is to fairly scrutinize all the candidates on their positions and issues. This debate attempted to lift the Clinton campaign just before the important Pennsylvania primary. They questioned Obama on his relationship with Reverend Jeremiah Wright and former weathermen Bill Ayers in Chicago, but no questioned Clinton's relationship with Al Sharpton or her role in President Clinton's pardon the members of the FALN, the Puerto Rican terrorist group, just before he left office.

I believe this was done to grease the wheels in NYC in preparation for her NY Senate run.

I was shocked that no criticized ABC for allowing George Stephanopoulos to serve as one of the debate moderators. As a former high-level Clinton administration official, I thought this was a huge conflict of interest.

You folks are the only ones that I know of who raised these questions. Good work.

Apr. 19 2008 09:51 AM
Peter T. Daniels from Jersey City, NJ

Dear Brooke Gladstone,

I can't believe you failed to mention that the woman who was shown asking the lapel pin question, Nash something, is obsessed with this question and was sought out by ABC to have her question put on tape.

How many "ordinary voters'" questions did they "choose" the two they used from?

Apr. 19 2008 07:29 AM
Dallas Staples from Suburbia U.S.A.

Of course the America Flag is "mainstream". Drive around Suburbia U.S.A. on Flag Day and have a look.

The real question for BO is why did say "I'm taking off my flag pin because it's unpatriotic to wear one".

His reward should have been an "I'm with stupid" pin with the arrow pointed at his face.

Apr. 18 2008 10:41 PM

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