Sound bites from the people that matter (the candidates for the GOP nomination for the 2016 presidential election) and hours of hashing and rehashing the sound bites from the people that don’t matter (media pundits): That is what we have to look forward to in the wake of the first GOP presidential candidate debates. This imbalance is the essence of my complaint.
The first GOP debates of the 2016 presidential campaign season will be held on Fox News on August 6,2015. Seventeen candidates are eligible to participate in one of two debates that evening. Originally, just one debate during two hours of primetime was scheduled to start at 9 PM Eastern Time. That primetime debate would only have allowed for the top 10 candidates in the polls to be on stage. Because of backlash, Fox News has announced an additional hour of debate for the remaining 7 candidates that starts at 5 pm Eastern Time, so all the major GOP candidates get some time on-camera.
But let’s put things into perspective. Are these debates going to use all 180 minutes of those time slots on these debates? Or will their be commercial breaks? Or, at the least, station breaks? Even if they air the debates nonstop without interruption, three hours does not seem to be much time considering that Fox News is on the air 24/7. A candidate would be really lucky to total more than 10 minutes of speaking time during these debates. How much can you really learn about a candidate’s platform in 10 minutes, especially if the moderator is steering conversation away from the message a candidate wants to emphasize? With such a short timeframe to work with, a moderator has to be very selective about what issues to raise and responses to elicit. Viewers will not get a chance to learn the depth and breadth of each candidacy. Therefore, there will be too little information revealed to make apples to apples comparisons between candidates’ competing visions.
24-hour news networks can be boring to follow over the course of a day because so much information is repeated ad nauseum. The debates will provide a welcome break from that. Why not pre-empt all of the regularly scheduled programming that evening to give us a solid block of time to hear all the candidates more in-depth in a round robin that puts them all on stage at once? After all, this is the debut.
A debut means that it is a special occasion that comes around only once every four years, so why the stinginess on time? At any other time of the campaign season, people will have already dropped out–people who might have been worthy of further consideration, had they only been given a chance to have their say. One of the reasons that the freedom of the press is encoded into our U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights is so that we can access information about these very important political matters. TV news outlets should exist for stuff such as this.
I say, start the cameras rolling at 4 pm and keep them rolling until midnight. Yes, that’s a full eight-hour work shift during which the candidates need to remain engaged, but the work of the President of the United States is far more grueling than that, thus it should be no big deal. Yeah, people need to eat and people need to use the bathroom during eight hours, so seat the candidates at long tables that will allow them to be served some dinner. Since only one person can talk at a time anyway, there should be plenty of time for the other sixteen candidates to swallow a few bites and take a few swigs of their drinks as they listen in. The candidates, of course, would need to be cued when they are on-deck so that they are free to speak without food in their mouths when it becomes their turn. The candidates can grab restroom breaks during commercials. While food is being served, the debate format can be Q & A between moderator and candidate, with each taking a turn. After the food has been cleared away, the debate between candidates can begin in earnest, wherein candidates can challenge each other’s positions with much less input from the moderator. At that point, the moderator would merely play traffic cop by identifying which speaker has the floor at any given point so that candidates do not talk over each other.
Who is going is going to watch an eight-hour debate in its entirety besides die-hard political junkies, you ask? Never fear, for, in the weeks following, the pundits will all pile on to rehash what was said. Therefore, if you only caught pieces of the debate, you are sure to see regurgitations of it. The difference is, instead of the pundits playing upon the same sound bites over and over again, there will actually be enough substance from the candidates’ mouths that the pundits might actually say something insightful rather than knee-jerk. There will be more context within which to analyze candidates’ statements.
When hours of punditry have to pick over mere seconds of sound bites, the political commentary tends to resemble tabloid TV reality shows. We have enough of that on the tube already. If the news networks made the changes I recommend, there would be more meat for the pundits to digest, and the commentary might actually become educational, and that would be refreshing.
Aren’t there way too many pundits? Don’t they take up way too much broadcasting time? More time should have been alloted to this debut event–specifically to the candidates. The pundits are like the poor: They will always be with us.
By the way, here’s a recap of the 17 candidates, in no particular order, with links to their official websites (except for one, the latest entrant, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who doesn’t seem to have launched his website yet).
Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore
Former New York Governor George Pataki
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee
Former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum
U.S. Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio
U.S. Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz
U.S. Senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul
U.S. Senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina
Pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson
Real estate tycoon Donald Trump
Ohio Governor John Kasich
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie