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ABC News Demonstrates How NOT To Run A Democratic Candidates Debate

April 17, 2008

I was busy last night so I taped the Democratic debate and watched it this morning.  Sad and perplexing are the two words that come to mind. 

I am 45 and have followed politics since 1976.  I have watched the debates and analysis over the years and have never witnessed such a poorly run and executed debate by a major news organization.  After I had finished watching I turned to the media writers online from the major papers and found the criticism of ABC to be withering.  And rightfully so.

The Washington Post stated it accurately.

For the first 52 minutes of the two-hour, commercial-crammed show, Gibson and Stephanopoulos dwelled entirely on specious and gossipy trivia that already has been hashed and rehashed, in the hope of getting the candidates to claw at one another over disputes that are no longer news. Some were barely news to begin with.

The fact is, cable networks CNN and MSNBC both did better jobs with earlier candidate debates. Also, neither of those cable networks, if memory serves, rushed to a commercial break just five minutes into the proceedings, after giving each candidate a tiny, token moment to make an opening statement. Cable news is indeed taking over from network news, and merely by being competent.

Gibson sat there peering down at the candidates over glasses perched on the end of his nose, looking prosecutorial and at times portraying himself as a spokesman for the working class. Blunderingly he addressed an early question, about whether each would be willing to serve as the other’s running mate, “to both of you,” which is simple ineptitude or bad manners. It was his job to indicate which candidate should answer first. When, understandably, both waited politely for the other to talk, Gibson said snidely, “Don’t all speak at once.”

For that matter, the running-mate question that Gibson made such a big deal over was decidedly not a big deal — especially since Wolf Blitzer asked it during a previous debate televised and produced by CNN.


To this observer, ABC’s coverage seemed slanted against Obama. The director cut several times to reaction shots of such Clinton supporters as her daughter, Chelsea, who sat in the audience at the Kimmel Theater in Philly’s National Constitution Center. Obama supporters did not get equal screen time, giving the impression that there weren’t any in the hall. The director also clumsily chose to pan the audience at the very start of the debate, when the candidates made their opening statements, so Obama and Clinton were barely seen before the first commercial break.

At the end, Gibson pompously thanked the candidates — or was he really patting himself on the back? — for “what I think has been a fascinating debate.” He’s entitled to his opinion, but the most fascinating aspect was waiting to see how low he and Stephanopoulos would go, and then being appalled at the answer.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Marion permalink
    April 18, 2008 10:02 AM

    And you failed to mention the relationship of Obama to some guy he knew when he was 8 yrs. old. What was Stephanopolis thinking? This was a wasted debate with 45 min. into the debate before they asked a question that would remotely interest the public. And commercials galore and what’s with the idiot and the “nose” glasses?

    Your right about the camera panning to Chelsea Clinton. [ Chelsea Clinton is no beauty but sine Donnetala Versaci tiook her in hand she does have better clothes and hair and makeup][Just wanted to show what $104.5 million can buy][and they made fun of Edwards $400 haircut..I’ll bet Chelsea’s cost more] Why was not Obama’s wife or whoever was with him shown? In future, I would decline this kind of forum. ABC should wonder why they are doing so poorly in the ratings.

    It’s no wonder Stephanopolis got asked to leave his Wash. DC job as mouth piece for Pres. He’s an idiot…oh excuse me, that’s an insult to all the idiots I already know in the public. One should not bad mouth a whole section of society just because one has floated to the top of the barrel.

  2. Seth Miller permalink
    April 17, 2008 10:39 PM

    I am thrilled to see that ABC is being lambasted for last night’s sorry answer to a “debate”. What an incredible waste of air time and attention!

    This debate is symbolic of so much that is broken with our current political system…backbiting, pettyness, focus on gaffes and insignificant minutia. No wonder nothing good comes out of Washington these days.

    If we are going to fix the broken system, we not only need to replace the current administration, we need to demand that the media clean up their act too!

    Vote with your remotes!

  3. April 17, 2008 2:08 PM

    All the questions of style aside, I was left with the convincing impression that Obama could never win in the general.

    Now I would not vote for either of these corporate toadies, but with a Hillary I would be a little more assured that McCain would not be the next president.

  4. kip permalink
    April 17, 2008 12:05 PM

    It’s worth noting that George S. used to work for Bill Clinton. Everything you said was right, but I didn’t think it was that big a deal. This was, what, their 24th debate?
    I think everyone’s debated out!

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