There appears to have been an evolution from some members of the media regarding the debates. Back in June, an op-ed in The Washington Post declared “it’s time to rethink the presidential debates.”
Columnist Karen Tumulty laid out suggestions to improve the political matchups like getting rid of a live audience and conducting them in a television studio. As she noted, the elimination of a crowd would make it more challenging for Trump to “pull stunts,” citing his invitation of four Bill Clinton accusers during his town hall debate with Hillary Clinton.
However, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote a piece in July urging Biden not to debate the president unless “two conditions” were met.
“I worry about Joe Biden debating Donald Trump. He should do it only under two conditions. Otherwise, he’s giving Trump unfair advantages,” Friedman began his op-ed.
Friedman said the “conditions” should be that Trump must release his tax returns from 2016 to 2018, and that both campaigns should agree on having a “real-time fact-checking team” hired by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates.
The columnist suggested “10 minutes before the scheduled conclusion of the debate, this team report on any misleading statements, phony numbers or outright lies either candidate had uttered. That way no one in that massive television audience can go away easily misled.”
“Debates always have ground rules. Why can’t telling the truth and equal transparency on taxes be conditions for this one?” Friedman asked.
The Times columnist said the debates will not be a “good way” for Biden to “reintroduce himself” to the American people — particularly during the coronavirus outbreak when the former vice president has largely hunkered down in his Delaware home instead of being out on the campaign trail.
“He should not go into such a high-stakes moment ceding any advantages to Trump,” Friedman wrote. “Trump is badly trailing in the polls, and he needs these debates much more than Biden does to win over undecided voters.”
He added: “So Biden needs to make Trump pay for them in the currency of transparency and fact-checking — universal principles that will level the playing field for him and illuminate and enrich the debates for all citizens.”
CNN political analyst and former Clinton spokesman Joe Lockhart went even further, pleading to Biden that he should skip the debates altogether.
Writing in a piece last week titled, “Joe Biden can still lose this election,” Lockhart argued that the benefits of not showing up to the debates outweigh the backlash he’d receive.
“Trump has now made more than 20,000 misleading or false statements according to the Washington Post. It’s a fool’s errand to enter the ring with someone who can’t follow the rules or the truth,” Lockhart wrote. “Biden will undoubtedly take heat from Republicans and the media for skipping the debates. But it’s worth the risk as trying to debate someone incapable of telling the truth is an impossible contest to win.”
The left-leaning publication The New Republic called for presidential debates to be canceled “forever,” insisting they don’t inform the public as they should and simply serve as cable news fodder.
“Whatever purpose these debates may have served at some point in the past has been overrun by media excess and politics’ cynical machinery,” TNR staff writer Alex Shepard said last week. “If they once functioned effectively as a showcase to contrast the essential differences between the candidates or to test their leadership and critical thinking skills, they now exist as a strange sort of political ritual that celebrates form over function and optics over authenticity. Really, they are just a thing we now do every election season, without fully understanding why we do it. What could we possibly learn from three debates between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, besides the fact that it’s time we did away with them entirely?”
Journalist Elizabeth Drew appeared to agree that the debates should be “scrapped” in a Times op-ed published Monday.
“Over time, the debates came to resemble professional wrestling matches, and more substantive debates were widely panned in the press. Points went to snappy comebacks and one-liners. Witty remarks drew laughs from the audience and got repeated for days and remembered for years,” Drew explained. “But what is the point or relevance of the carefully prepared one-liner? It’s as spontaneous as a can of sardines. It’s usually delivered from a memory chip in the mind, having been fashioned and rehearsed with aides. When is a president called upon to put down an interlocutor, be it a member of Congress or a foreign leader?”
Drew stressed, however, that her op-ed isn’t about fearing that Trump would “prevail” over Biden but that “‘winning’ a debate… should be irrelevant, as are the debates themselves.” Though she did suggest that the debates aided Trump’s candidacy in 2016, writing “The debates took us nowhere nearer the realities about arguably the most disastrous president in our history. They became simply another tool in his arsenal.”
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