Fake Debates


What television broadcasters and viewers insist on calling political debates are nothing more than verbal street fights. The fact that everyone wears business attire doesn’t hide the fact that the entertainment caters not to serious thought but to the blood lust that taints everything in America from political campaigns to pee-wee sports.

A real debate is a formal contest between two competitors who politely but persuasively argue opposite sides of a single question. To promote their own side and to refute their opponent, they need to study all aspects of the topic in advance and arrive with a well-rounded and fact-based understanding of all the pros and cons. Strict rules govern the order of arguments and rebuttals.

When you line up a dozen candidates, shoot questions at them, and allow them to ramble on and on and interrupt each other, you don’t have a debate. When you stage the same kind of confrontation between the final two candidates, you still don’t have a debate.

Broadcasters have a moral and ethical obligation (it should also be a legal one) to find a better name for these shows or else change the format. Here’s how to make these events legitimate exchanges of views even if you continue to call them (wrongly) debates.

First, eliminate the live audience. If you won’t do that, at least instruct the audience that this is a cerebral activity, not a sporting event and that, as in a court of law, disruptive behavior (cheering, applause, loud groaning, etc.) will be cause for immediate removal of the offender from the room. Then enforce it.

Inform “debaters” in advance that three attempts to interrupt another speaker will result in ejection from the program, and then enforce it.

Mute the microphones of all participants until the moderator invites one of them to speak. Don’t show individual camera shots of other “debaters” reacting to the speaker.

Insist on relevant responses to the moderator’s questions. A “debater” who starts to answer a question with a stump speech or a list of talking points will immediately have his or her microphone muted and her or his image removed from the screen. A yes-or-no question must be answered with a Yes or No, after which the speaker may support the Yes or No with relevant commentary. But if the commentary comes first, or if it strays from the specific point of the question, the speaker’s microphone will be muted and his image blocked from the screen.

Once muted and blocked out visually, a player can’t get back into the game until the next round of questioning. A contestant who violates any combination of these rules three times will be ejected from the program.

A panel of judges should score each participant. A player will score higher for emphasizing her own achievements or virtues than for enumerating his opponents’ failures or shortcomings. Statements of fact attributed to specific sources will earn more points than glittering generalities. The number of times a performer’s microphone is muted for rules violations will adversely affect her score.

What? This is too much trouble? You’d have to spend too much money for staffing? And the show would be too boring? It’s cheaper and easier and way more popular just to let the contestants slug it out for the entertainment of the masses?

Fine. But quit calling these shows “debates” or any other term implying a serious and informative activity, and quit claiming credit for them as News or Public Affairs programming under the terms of your license to use the public airwaves for your own profit.

Bottoms Up, America


You’d think hypocrisy, selfishness, and ignorance had been shaken or stirred and served as the newest American cocktail. And the dimwits who blither endlessly about freeloaders and welfare reform while rabidly supporting corporate welfare have clearly been over-served.

Here’s what a more sober view of corporate welfare would show them.

Cities and states compete to attract major corporate employers by offering incentives: subsidies (gifts of taxpayer funds) to help pay for construction; extension of utility services to newly developed property at taxpayers’ expense; construction or improvement of roads, also at taxpayers’ expense; permits to use land for purposes prohibited to local citizens and businesses by zoning ordinances; permission to violate environmental protections; and special low tax rates on profits.

Kinda makes food stamps and rent money to needy families look like chicken feed, doesn’t it?

Another type of corporate welfare is outsourcing government work to for-profit companies.

EXAMPLE: providing construction and transportation services for the Army, formerly a self-sufficient organization that provided these services by training soldiers with skills they could take with them back into civilian life. Think of Halliburton running convoys of empty trucks in Iraq and charging the government a huge mark-up on what they actually paid for fuel.

ANOTHER EXAMPLE (and a really weird one): civilian companies (hey there, Blackwater) providing security services for our armed forces, which formerly had their own police forces. And if the most heavily armed and well trained fighting force on Earth needs to be protected by a civilian company, two questions come to mind: (1) what kind of horrific weapons and unrestrained tactics do their protectors use, and (2) why not send the troops home and let their protectors fight the enemy?

STILL ANOTHER EXAMPLE: private contractors running prisons where an entry-level guard earns more than twice the annual salary of a public school teacher with advanced university degrees and twenty years of experience.

Have another olive or onion or a little paper umbrella in that cocktail

The standard excuse for corporate welfare is that it’s good for the community. Aside from the dishonesty of that claim, it’s worth noting that feeding the hungry so they don’t have to steal is also good for the community. So is housing the homeless so they don’t clutter up the sidewalks, which drives shoppers away. So is providing the poor with money so they can buy life’s necessities at local stores.

The anti-welfare crowd would never support feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and providing the poor with enough money to survive just because it’s the right thing to do. And they’re too drunk on the new American cocktail to recognize that these things would also serve their own best interests.

Bottoms up.

Fake Objectivity


Hardly anything branded as “fake news” is actually fraudulent, but much of what’s called “objective reporting” is as phony as a politician’s commitment to the good of the American people.

“Objective reporting” means relating what happened without trying to convey an opinion about it. Americans have been duped into accepting “balanced reporting” as just another term for “objective reporting” — but they’re not the same thing, and “balanced reporting” isn’t nearly as admirable as its proponents want you to think it is.

Dragging in a highly inflammatory statement or a statement of questionable validity from the lunatic fringe to “balance out” the key point of the story is not “objective” — it’s either devious or stupid depending on the intention or the ignorance of the reporter. “Telling both sides” is equally without merit when one or two unrelated or insignificant points are used to “balance” a preponderance of strong evidence or when a statement from an unqualified person “balances” the opinions or findings of leading experts.

Newspapers and magazines that target readers with a specific and narrow mindset are sometimes faced with a story of high news value that contradicts their position. Since they can’t ignore it, they undermine it with input from sources that would not be quoted in more ethical publications.

The same scenario plays out in the broadcast media, where there are at least three reasons for this deviation from straight news reporting. One reason is the proliferation of interview and discussion programs which, like fruit trees, require many branches if they’re to bear the desired fruit (in this case, filling the allotted air time and attracting the largest possible audience and the highest-paying sponsors). Another reason is Fox’s need to obscure obvious facts with a smoke-screen of contradictory “evidence”. And a third reason is National Public Radio’s compulsion to include a blatantly liberal element in every discussion whether it’s relevant or not.

The urge to demonstrate objectivity without understanding it is typically triggered by news items about legislation, administrative actions, court decisions, and the like. These invariably inspire reporters to seek out contrasting opinions about the underlying issues which are seldom part of the actual news story.

Equal air time for a rival political party’s response to a State of the Union speech is an example of token objectivity or its illegitimate sibling, balanced reporting, carried to an extreme. Of course, no State of the Union speech in living memory has actually been a report on the condition of the country. It’s just another partisan political stump speech, too predictable to be considered news. But the opposition’s response is even more “not news”.