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Monday, August 19, 2013

Should Presidential Primary Debates Be Run by Partisan Moderators?

Posted by Goldy on Mon, Aug 19, 2013 at 1:29 PM

Angry at CNN and NBC for their respective plans to produce a Hillary Clinton documentary and biopic, the Republican National Committee voted Friday to bar the two networks from 2016 Republican presidential debate coverage, essentially leaving the debates in the hands of Fox News and their highly partisan right-wing moderators. And there's a growing consensus among progressive pundits that this would be a good thing!

Writing at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum argues that ideological moderators would make the primary debates both more substantive and more entertaining. Conservative moderators would ask the questions the conservative Republican base wants to hear, while the rest of us would get to writhe in joy/horror at the answers. Over at the American Prospect, Paul Waldman effectively argues that "primaries are supposed to be partisan"—it's the party that is choosing its candidate, not the nation. And writing at Lawyers, Gun & Money, Scott Lemieux suggest that little would be missed by cutting fairness and balance out of the picture:

The thing about more ideological pundits is that at least they care, care about actual politics. They’re far more likely to be informed and to ask relevant questions. Cutting “neutral” journalists largely or entirely out of primary debates is almost certainly a good thing.

And what's good for the elephant is good for the donkey. In the service of better informing Democratic primary voters, the DNC should follow the RNC's lead and adopt a more partisan primary debate format themselves, starting by cutting Fox News out their coverage. Indeed, progressives disappointed with President Obama's performance in office might wonder how different the 2008 Democratic primary would have turned out had the candidates been forced to parry questions coming at them from the left?

Of course, the general election debates are a different matter. The general election audience deserves more fair and balanced moderation. Or if that's impossible (and it probably is), at least a fairly balanced mix of partisan moderators determined to keep both sides honest.

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