Presidential debates, journalists and truth

If you are expecting some truth tonight during the final presidential debate, don’t look to Bob Schieffer, the veteran CBS news guy. He doesn’t have a chance of discovering any. Better that you hit the TV with a brick and head to Kent State at 8 p.m. for a Wick poetry reading. It features Djelloul Marbrook. He’s a poet and a retired newspaper editor with some strong opinions about the future and failings of journalism.

And now that he is a poet and fiction writer, Marbrook can tell the truth. Journalists, at best, just report facts. Schieffer, like Tom Brokaw and Jim Lehrer before him, is a journalist of the old school: play it straight down the middle. He said. She said. Ho-hum.

Gwen Ifill had a shot at sparking some lively conversation during the vice-presidential debate. But she ended up neutered because of her apparent affection for Obama and his campaign. So when she asked Tina Fey (oops, Sarah Palin) a question, it was easy for the candidate to demur, saying she had something else on her mind to talk about.

So it will go tonight. Schieffer, by all accounts an honest, well-respected journalist, has some ties to George Bush. According to an article in The, Schieffer’s brother, Tom, was a part owner with W. of the Texas Rangers baseball team. And subsequently W. named Tom ambassador to Australia; he is now ambassador to Japan.

None of that disqualifies Schieffer. Yet traditional journalism is so focused on objectivity that I’m not sure we actually learn anything. I talked about that at dinner Monday night with Marbrook. His take: Many journalists just print one lie against another these days. And since when can the press not say something is not true?

Good question.

Maybe Schieffer will actually ask some tough questions. And then stay in the candidates’ faces until they actually answer them. Here’s from an article in Politico, “Moderator Schieffer steps up to the plate“:

This year’s presidential and vice presidential debates have become a lightning rod for criticism — particularly the striking lack of candor by the candidates and the snore-inducing formats that framed their performances.

Also getting their fair share of brickbats have been the three moderators — Jim Lehrer and Gwen Ifill of PBS and Tom Brokaw of NBC — who each seemed unable or unwilling to police the nominees into an action rarely seen in these encounters: actually answering the question.

“When a candidate doesn’t answer the question, my opinion is that, at the very least, the moderator needs to say, ‘You didn’t answer the question,’ former CBS anchor Dan Rather told Politico, on the sidelines of a Time Warner conference Tuesday on the media and politics.

“Even if you have to interrupt,” Rather added, the moderator should “keep on asking the question, either until the candidate answers it, or it’s clear the candidate is not going to answer it.”

Dan’s right — but he’s swimming upstream.

Better that we had a poet moderate the debate. At least he or she would be looking for truth.


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