Monday, September 22, 2008

On The Beach, But No Bum

Sunset Beach, North Shore, Oahu
In doing some beach reading Sunday, I came across an article in September's Atlantic Monthly, by James Fallows, who previews the upcoming presidential debates and critiques the increasingly common format of these exercises that end up framing the election.

As we prepare for our KY3 debate for Governor between Kenny Hulshof and Jay Nixon, I'm constantly volleying strategies/questions back and forth inside my head. In his piece, "Rhetorical Questions," Fallows outlines some rules for debates. He calls them the "5 Questions That Should Never Be Asked." Fallows makes the case that we'd be more responsible journalists, and serve the public better if we adhered to these rules.

As you read them, think to yourself whether we should apply these rules to our own upcoming debate. And if you would like, e-mail me your thoughts about them (

1. DON'T ASK . . . The Will You Pledge Tonight Question . . . Fallows argues no responsible politician should ever flat-out unequivocally promise to do ANYTHING. He says it would be irresponsible, because conditions change. In fact, if a politician does make a solid, flat-out pledge, Fallows argues, they are too "doctrinaire for the job." Pledges either handcuff a leader, or create a flip-flop trap.

2. DON'T ASK . . . The GOTCHA Question . . . This is about a change of policy. You could point out a date in 1998 where the candidate said, or suggested something different than he/she is saying now. Fallows says while some changes are suspicious and should be probed, others reflect a recognition of new facts, and should be accepted as so.

3. DON'T ASK . . .The Loaded Hypothetical . . . Because it assumes factors that can't be known, argues Fallows. He cites Bernard Shaw's question of Michael Dukakis 20 years ago about his wife being raped and murdered. Still, didn't that reveal something about the candidate that was useful?

4. DON'T ASK . . . The Raise Your Hand . . . This isn't even in the cards for us, but they did it at those early primary debates where they had like 12 candidates to get through. Fallows writes "the raise your hand question" is intellectually vulgar and extremely rude.

5. DON'T ASK . . . The Lightning Round . . . Again, we won't be doing this either; it's not in our format. But Fallows says this is also vulgar, rude and offensive.

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