Debate Commission Counters 'Open Debate' Crusade


Source: CongressDaily
Author: Andrew Noyes

Commission on Presidential Debates Co-Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf on Tuesday downplayed a crusade by a group of Internet activists and political strategists who have called for sweeping changes made to the way the 20-year-old entity operates or its abolishment altogether. Fahrenkopf, a former Republican National Committee chairman, said that the Open Debate Coalition's complaints are the latest in a legacy of grievances that confront the commission every presidential election cycle. Fahrenkopf cited the Commission's efforts to keep pace with American citizens' appetite for technology such as partnering with social networking community MySpace.com in September to launch MyDebates.org. On that interactive Web site, individuals could submit potential questions for the "town hall" style debate between McCain and Obama. Debate moderator Tom Brokaw chose several questions out of thousands that were posed online as well a number of questions asked by audience members on-site. Both Fahrenkopf and Open Debate Coalition co-founder Lawrence Lessig do agree on two things: they believe letting the public help select debate questions is beneficial, and the primary cycle's "YouTube" debates on CNN were lacking. Lessig said videotaped questions chosen by producers were "gimmicky" and not hard-hitting enough, while Fahrenkopf said the Commission was "put off" by the forum, particularly one video where a talking snowman asked a question about global warming. "We're choosing the leader of the free world," he said. "That debate was demeaning to the nature of what we're doing." In early 2009, Commission officials plan to meet with academics, media representatives, and other stakeholders to discuss this year's debates and potential improvements, Fahrenkopf said.

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