Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Brand New Media, Same Old Nonsense?

The web is abuzz with news that the left-leaning Huffington Post and the pioneering Slate Magazine are teaming up to launch presidential debates on the Internet. PBS has also joined in.

"Finally," you think, "an opportunity for real dialogue with the national candidates without censorship or one-way talking points." An internet debate would have the potential to be more interactive than the debates in 2000 and 2006, when the questions were pre-selected and anyone who asked an "unapproved" question would have his microphone switched off. In 2006, the Libertarian and Green parties received a court order mandating that the taxpayer-funded debates also include them -- yet not only was the court order ignored, but the two candidates were manhandled by police when they showed up at the taxpayer-funded forum to serve the two other candidates with the court order. The ruling of the court went ignored.

So the internet could only be better, right? Ahh, not so fast my optimistic reader! The current debate plan is to only allow Democrats and Republicans to participate in the forum:

PBS was expected to announce the web debates on Monday (according to AP) with both Democrat and Republican presidential candidates expected to sign up for their respective party with the first Internet debate to take place some time after Labor Day.

America's other two national parties -- our own party and the Greens -- will once again be excluded from this debate, as will independent candidates. Despite being on the ballot in most or all states. Despite having multi-million-dollar budgets, national campaign organizations, and robust nomination procedures.

So far, this is shaping up to be not a new media venture -- with debate, discussion and interactivity -- but rather an effort to impose the same old two-party duopoly on political debate, with no focus on new ideas or solutions.

It's up to every conscientious voter to write and call the individual organizations and make sure that the Libertarians, Greens, and nationally registered independents are also included in the debates -- so that they're actually debates rather than a PR exercise.

Edit: it's also interesting to note in the linked article that Democratic and Republican candidates are already balking at even a limited forum where they receive some questions from the public. That's yet another reason why the debates should be fully open to public participation and participation by all candidates with a national organization and presence on the ballot. Politicians shouldn't be able to ignore the scrutiny -- and tough questions -- of voters and other candidates.