No Debate: Secret Control of Presidential Debates + The Ifill Truth: ALL the Debates are Biased!

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Democracy Now!
Oct. 2, 2008

No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates

The Obama and McCain campaigns jointly negotiated a detailed secret contract dictating the terms of all the 2008 debates. This includes who gets to participate, as well as the topics raised during the debates. We speak to Open Debates founder and executive director George Farah. [includes rush transcript]

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The Ifill Truth: ALL the Debates are Biased!

Posted by Loralynne Krobetzky
Oct. 2, 2008

The charade of the so-called Presidential Debates continues.  Already a carefully orchestrated question and answer session controlled by the Democrat and Republican parties to the exclusion of other candidates, it now emerges that even the moderators may hold partisan bias. Headlines shot up around the country, raising the question of whether the debates can be considered legitimate if the moderator holds a bias. The question that Americans should really be asking, however, is not merely who’s moderating, but rather, who is controlling the debates?

Gwen Ifill, of PBS, slated to moderate tonight’s Vice-Presidential Debate, has penned a book titled The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.  One must instantly wonder how Ifill can call this the “Age” of Obama without having a serious predilection towards the outcome of these debates. Moreover, the book is set to be released around the time of the Inauguration, January, 2009, seemingly to usher in the “age of Obama.”  Columnist Michelle Malkin worries about Ifill’s ability to objectively moderate, but her criticism reveals deeper inadequacies within the system.  “My dictionary, Malkin writes, “defines ‘moderator’ as ‘the nonpartisan presiding officer of a town meeting.’ On Thursday, PBS anchor Gwen Ifill will serve as moderator for the first and only vice presidential debate. The stakes are high. The Commission on Presidential Debates, with the assent of the two campaigns, decided not to impose any guidelines on her duties or questions. “

While it is unfortunate that Ms. Ifill may indeed have a pro-Obama bias while moderating, the bias exhibited against third party or independent candidates by the Commission on Presidential Debates is far greater. The 15 percent polling guideline set by the CPD is arbitrary and restrictive. Compare it to the 5 percent threshold set by the League of Women Voters, which ran the debates until 1988, when it declared, “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.  (Full statement found here.)

Fox News Correspondent Greta Van Susteren went so far as to claim that Ifill’s authorship on Obama makes the debates “unfair” and that it should “create a mistrial.” If that were so, then the CPD’s closed sponsorship of the debates should qualify them as a farce. The CPD likes to portray itself as non-profit and non-partisan, while in effect it serves as a mouthpiece for the two parties, screening questions, excluding other candidates, and ensuring that power will continue to be passed between the few. As Nancy M. Neuman, president of the League of Women Voters in 1988 warned, “under partisan sponsorship debates will become just another risk-free stop along the campaign trail.”

And risk-free it is. By excluding candidates who don’t agree to couch their answers, who will tackle the hard questions, the “debates” become nothing more than a mutual interview. Ms. Neuman again warned of this outcome in 1988, stating: “it became clear that the idea of debates sponsored by the political parties had appeal with people who routinely squeeze all risk out of their candidates’ appearances. They prefer instead to leave the American public at risk … Throughout the negotiation, I asked that the campaigns open the door to the League. I was certain that the voters’ interests would be better served if there were a third party in the room keeping campaign manipulations in check.” Imagine what the debates would be like with not only a third party overseeing, but also participating.

Regarding tonight’s Vice-Presidential debates, Mr. Nader offers a tantalizing picture: “If you wanted to see an exciting debate, something that got beyond personalities to real issues, then they should include Matt Gonzalez,” I guarantee you that he would bring more to the discussion than Sarah Palin, and he would keep Joe Biden on his toes.” As John Nichols of The Nation points out: “the independent candidate for vice president has credible experience helping to run a unit of government that is significantly larger than anyplace Palin has run … if Palin and the Republicans want to suggest that the former mayor’s municipal service is part of what gives her stature, Gonzalez might merit some attention — including a place at the table in the vice-presidential debate. “ Certainly Mr. Gonzalez has the experience and qualifications to be included the debates. That he will not be present tonight is only another way that the American people emerge the loser — regardless of the winner of tonight’s charade.

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