Tomorrow night is the first Republican debate of the 2016 presidential campaign season. In years past, primary debates were typically held in the states where primaries were about to be held, sponsored by the local newspaper, and - ostensibly - focused on the issues important to those residing in that state. The big national primaries between the two selected candidates were conducted by the League of Women Voters.
Things have changed quite a bit. On the national level, the League of Women Voters bailed on the process when the two major parties escalated demands to the point where they simply threw up their hands and walked away. On the primary level, things have changed too.
While primaries may have been sponsored by newspapers, the papers at least had a reputation for reporting news on a generally sober level. Their editorial pages may have a slant one way or the other, but fact-based reporting was the norm. That was even the case with network news (pre-cable), back when it was considered a loss-leader rather than a profit center.
Which brings us to the present day.
The debate tomorrow is being sponsored by FOX "News". I always put that second part of their name in quotes because it is well-documented
how they make up "facts", misrepresent and misreport, etc. Their editorial bias is clear, which is why it's a favorite of right-wingers. They are impossible to distinguish from a propaganda operation.
There are several reasons why having them sponsor the debate is problematic:
- Challenging the Participants: I hope I am proved wrong, but how many of the candidates are going to be seriously challenged for their more extremist positions? This looks to be more of a soft fluffing of them all, and pushing them to go even more extreme in an effort to boost their conservative bona fides. I predict the number of serious probing questions will be able to be counted on one hand.
- Participant Selection: The top ten candidates based on polls will be participating; the others will be relegated to a warm-up act. This puts actual serious candidates (comparatively speaking) at a disadvantage as WWE-style posturing seems to be attracting those who actually respond to polls. It can also lead to "stacking the deck" by respondents looking for entertainment rather than serious political discussion (for example: Ted Cruz's video of cooking bacon with a semi-automatic rifle. What an embarrassment for America).
- Ceding Control by the Party: The aforementioned League of Women voters bailed on the debates because the parties demanded too much control over the debate format. They are a non-partisan, non-ideologue body. For these debates, the Republican party is willing to cede ALL control over the debate to a news/propaganda organization which can make or break candidates based on FOX's version of "reporting". It's a bit shocking they are so beholden to FOX, and one wonders if this wanders into a gray legal area.
- Media Access: Considering this is sponsored by FOX, how many other networks are going to cover it, and - by doing so - give FOX some semblance of credibility (not to mention free advertising)? Hopefully C-SPAN will cover it so folks can watch it without giving FOX "News" the Nielsen ratings.
Those who cover the campaigns are none too happy with this
, and it's understandable. When a nationwide news network takes control of the narrative, we are entering into dangerous territory for our democratic republic.