Instead, viewers of the most-watched debate of the primary season learned which candidates owned firearms, why Rudy Giuliani rooted for the Boston Red Sox in the World Series and whether libertarian Rep. Ron Paul would run as an independent. While those questions offered intriguing tidbits about the candidates, they also reinforced the sad state of politics and the obsession with the horse race.
In terms of public policy, there were intelligent questions on fiscal restraint, space exploration and illegal aliens. But even the debate over immigration policy quickly devolved when host Anderson Cooper failed to moderate a shouting match between Romney and Giuliani, who appeared to favor theatrics over concrete solutions.
What does this mean for the thousands of YouTube users who submitted questions and the more than 4 million people who tuned into CNN to watch? The new-media format of the debate certainly allowed for greater participation in the democratic process, but the old media got in the way of making it work effectively. The American people may have been the ones asking the questions, but the filter CNN used to vet them highlighted the network’s bias. Cooper didn’t do the network any favors when he gave one YouTube questioner -- a Hillary Clinton supporter who was in the audience -- a soapbox to lecture the candidates on gay marriage.
The Republican candidates who wanted to cut and run from this debate back in July deserve credit for reversing course and showing up. It’s just too bad it was a wasted opportunity, spoiled not by the people who took the time to submit questions but by the media elite who controlled the process.