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BROADCAST FAILURE: the ABC Debate

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For once, the abysmal quality of the mainstream media has been noticed by the mainstream media itself. April 16th’s Democratic debate met with such public outcry – an open letter to ABC signed by 41 journalists and media analysts, thousands of furious emails on ABC.com, 200,000 signatures on MoveOn’s petition - that The Washington Post, The L.A. Times, Associated Press, Reuters, USA Today.com, NPR online, and even ABC World News actually covered the firestorm. This may be some kind of wake-up call, at least to ABC. They had certainly been oblivious to their responsibility to the public before this furor. Not even the shouts and groans from the live audience at the debate (captured in a videoclip on Huffington Post) had clued them in by the next morning: George Stephanopoulos cheerily recapped the debate on Good Morning America as if his pointless questions had been very informative, and on The View, Barbara Walters praised Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson’s “strong questions” and suggested that not a lot of people had heard such questions before. (Both shows are on ABC.)

            In typical Hillary Clinton campaign fashion, both the campaign’s first statements and her own public ones after the debate ignored the true nature of the complaints about ABC. On Friday she tried to paint the moderators’ questions, so widely perceived as sensationalistic and trivial, as simply “hard questions”, and warned: “If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." This after the first 45 minutes of the debate were conducted in such a way that the moderators peppered Barack Obama with Fox News-style questions using lowest-common-denominator, inflammatory terms like “the flag”, “loves America” and “patriotic” – and then considered they were being ‘fair’ because they gave Clinton equal time to ‘respond’…to the charges against Obama! Stephanopoulos even seemed to want to make up for the fact that the Democratic Party had rebuffed FOX’s 2007 offer to host a debate (a rebuff based on FOX’s smear campaign against Obama). He asked a question on Ayers that, though uncredited, was literally straight from the mouth of FOX’s Sean Hannity, who had fed it to him on air the day before. (http://thinkprogress.org/2008/04/17/steph-hannity-audio/).

            But in truth it might have set some kind of precedent if ABC had actually asked genuinely ‘hard questions’. In ABC’s Democratic debate of Aug. 2007, Stephanopoulos, after repeatedly by-passing lower-ranking candidates, made sure all candidates on stage (8 of them then) answered a pressing question sent in from Utah: “Do they believe that, through the power of prayer, disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the Minnesota bridge collapse could have been prevented or lessened?” Unsurprisingly, they all replied something about the importance to them of spiritual values. And having taken up so much time with that vital question, there was no time to ask a question about how to verifiably lessen or prevent disasters like Katrina by actually fighting global warming!

            Nothing has changed in Stephanopoulos’ world since then, although an Antarctic ice shelf the size of Northern Ireland has broken off in our own. There were still no questions about global warming on April 16th. Not even a question on how the candidates might heed the Pentagon study (from 2004) on the vast climate change threat. Not even when the candidates were pressed on Pentagon leaders’ authority re. national security.

            The networks are in lock-step in their silence, though: the League of Conservation Voters monitors the questions the top 5 political reporters have asked presidential candidates in debates and interviews since Jan. 2007, and out of over 3,200 questions, Stephanopoulos, Tim Russert (NBC), Bob Schieffer (CBS), Wolf Blitzer (CNN), and Chris Wallace (FOX) have asked only a total of 8 questions between them mentioning climate change (http://whataretheywaitingfor.com/facts.html).

            Instead of the silly questions “do you think he can win?” and ‘can she win?’, which it was easy to predict the answers to, a question with actual substance could have been: “what integrity do the coming elections have when Diebold and other voting machines used in much of the country can be hacked into to change the national counts?” (http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/144431/us_presidential_election_can_be_hacked.html)

And on the subject so belabored Wednesday, ‘fighting the Republicans’, could they not have moved the candidates away from the rhetorical to the practical with: “Considering the fact John Kerry told author Mark Crispin Miller he thinks the 2004 election was stolen, and many, many others contend the 2000 election was stolen, would you fight for a recount if you lose? If the public elects you, will you make sure their wish is honored?”

            How about a question on holding the Bush Administration accountable for its 935 lies on Iraq, and its current lies on Iran? Instead, Stephanopoulos told his own lie, that Iran was continuing its “nuclear program” (by which he meant weaponry, not civilian power, though the National Intelligence Estimate says he’s wrong). Then he grafted this to another false assumption, that Iran has ever expressed any desire to attack Israel.

            Likewise, Gibson used false conservative talking points about the effectiveness of capital gains tax cuts to badger Clinton and Obama on taxes, while neglecting other questions on the economy such as: unemployment, the deficit, the privatization of natural resources, the specter of a depression, and how about that gap between the rich and poor?

            And why no mention of recent revelations that Cheney, Rice, Tenet, Ashcroft, and even Powell sat in on meetings to plan torture? Gibson had, after all, introduced the debate with: “Much has happened in [the last] six weeks, and there is much to discuss”. But apparently he was just referring to things like Obama’s “bitter” remarks.

            Yet despite their intense concentration on such supposed scandals, neither moderator asked Clinton how she could claim both that Obama’s remarks on people clinging to religion trivialize faith, and that she’s outraged by Obama’s loyalty to and respect for his church. I guess that might have been a ‘hard question’ for ABC and the media itself.

            The media was the message on April 16th, and it was loud enough for many people hitherto unaware to hear the distress call.

 

Jennifer Epps is a peace, social justice, pro-democracy, environmentalist and animal activist in L.A. She has also been a scriptwriter, stage director, actor, puppeteer, and film critic. Her political film reviews are collected at: (more...)
 

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I love your article up to the point that you focus... by Bruno on Sunday, Apr 20, 2008 at 2:27:29 PM