The recent CNN debate among the current candidates for the Republican nomination for president illustrated once more that political debates have become more about the moderators and reporters, and also about endless social media and technical gimmicks, than about the candidates themselves.
Before I criticize, let me offer a defense of the moderator of the CNN debate, John King. He suffered some pretty bad press reviews for his repeated tries at interrupting the candidates in order to keep them within the 30 seconds in which they each were allowed to speak.
King was a victim of the way the debate was set up. He was merely trying to keep a really bad format on track.
These Republican candidates are potential challengers to President Barack Obama. With two hours available to debate, why not let each candidate answer the same question? Why not give them a reasonable time to answer?
Here is the real answer to that question: The debate was all about the media, not the candidates.
Think of the assorted media technical devices and the personalities that had to be made relevant in order to meet the specifications of the modern-day "techno-social" debate platform. And think of all the media that were involved as players in this debate.
The debate -- and I use the term loosely -- included questions from remote locations, where "town hall meetings" had been assembled. Then there were the questions from CNN's media partners, both the major newspaper in the debate's host state, New Hampshire, and also the leading television station. And don't forget questions from the moderator and his Facebook friends. All that media noise can consume two hours with not a minute left over.
The format was great for those asking questions. They were allowed to drone on and on. But the candidates were given very little time to respond. My guess is that questioners got more airtime than the candidates. Then there was what is termed "clash" in debate lingo. Face-to-face confrontation.
But wait -- there wasn't any in this debate. The closest we came to seeing real clash was when the local TV anchor had her 15 minutes of fame as she tossed self-styled "tough" questions at the candidates. I can imagine that she worked for days thinking up her "gotcha" questions. After all, she had to appear as if she belonged in the big leagues.
One of the prominent storylines that emerged from the New Hampshire debate was that the candidates refrained from attacking one another.