Every four years, journalists present themselves as objective questioners in presidential debates only to be roundly, and correctly, denounced by conservatives for being anything but. When, oh when, we ask, will America be able to enjoy a candidate forum free from liberal reporters inserting their slanted worldviews into the discussion? When, oh when, we ask ourselves, will they get out of the way?
It looks like we should be very careful what we ask for.
On Tuesday night, CNN did this -- or at least said it was doing this. The network teamed up with the video site YouTube to host a debate of the Democratic contenders and pretenders in South Carolina. This time, the primary questioners were amateur video-makers who submitted their questions to YouTube, competing for CNN airtime like a political version of "American Idol." CNN puffed itself up as "groundbreaking" for this effort, suggesting it was offering "real questions from real people."
The questioners CNN presented may have given the debate a different flavor, but what the consumer was really left with was the aftertaste of too much soda bubbles and syrup. It was a dumbed-down debate, with center stage dedicated to bouts of silliness, shameless attention-seeking and emotionally manipulative questions.
Rather than an objective discussion about gay "rights," there was the question from two lesbians wondering why they couldn't get married. Rather than a factual question about Iraq, there was the angry plea from the grieving father of a fallen soldier that we withdraw before he lost another son. This kind of "moderation" might be enjoyable to view as an alternative to the norm -- like watching the heart-wrenching or embarrassing tryouts of "Idol" wannabes -- but it wasn't exactly the highfaluting rebirth of Athens.
These interviewers wanted to be taken seriously, but many were just buffoons who made fools of the network that likes to bill itself as "the most trusted name in news." CNN selected hammy Tennessee hillbillies looking like "Hee Haw" rejects and a cartoon snowman speaking in a falsetto voice about global warming as presidential candidate questioners, along with several lame musical interludes where the inquirers displayed their questions on crudely written cue cards.
Is this really the state of affairs in our democratic experiment, circa 2007? If so, God help us all.