The televised political debate has evolved a great deal since 1960 and 1976. (Or perhaps the proper word is “devolved.”) In 1960, only a little over four out of five American homes even had TV. The curious result of that fact is that most of those who listened to the debate on radio were convinced that Nixon had won. It was the visual effect of the tanned, robust Kennedy that put him ahead of the pale, wan, and 20 pounds underweight Nixon, who was at the time recovering from two weeks in the hospital due to a knee injury.
But the greatest change since 1960 and 1976 has been in the tenor of the debates. Candy Crawley lacks the journalistic objectivity of Howard K. Smith, and even Fox News’ Megyn Kelly seemed to be playing favorites – if not gotcha – in some of her questions during the first GOP candidate’s debate. The entire exercise seems to have degenerated into a media campaign to eliminate certain candidates by embarrassing them in front of the public.
However, the fourth estate, no matter what they may want to believe, is not the fourth branch of government. Their job is to report the news honestly, not to manufacture it. TV political debates offer too tempting an opportunity for the media to accomplish the latter. As a result, we have politicians who are more interested in pleasing the moderator than in addressing the problems of the People. And we are presented with a display of Jonathan Swift’s Liliputian politicians demonstrating their political ability by jumping over strings.
And some of the candidates seem eager to add the circus act atmosphere of modern TV political debates. Who can forget Giggles Biden’s ridiculous posturing when Paul Ryan was speaking in 2012? And currently, Donald Trump seems to be trying to mug his way to the White House, by affecting aggressive postures when other candidates are speaking. Are we being asked to equate acting ability with knowledge and showmanship with leadership?
In truth, the “political” debates on television have become a ratings game, with each news network trying to outdo the other in pageantry. They no longer have any relevance to the actual political process of choosing a President. In fact they have become a distraction and, worse, a detriment, because they deliberately eliminate viable candidates like Scott Walker solely on the grounds of not being photogenic.
I would, therefore, urge you to join me in ignoring them.