High Praise For Schieffer Aside, Groups Still Calling For Open Debates - InformationWeek
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10/16/2008
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K.C. Jones
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High Praise For Schieffer Aside, Groups Still Calling For Open Debates

While Bob Schieffer receives widespread praise for moderating the last presidential debate Wednesday night, supporters of both candidates have called for change. Republicans and Democrats have joined forces to demand tougher follow-up questions and more openness.

While Bob Schieffer receives widespread praise for moderating the last presidential debate Wednesday night, supporters of both candidates have called for change. Republicans and Democrats have joined forces to demand tougher follow-up questions and more openness.A survey conducted by Free Press, a media reform group and designed by Tyndall Report publisher Andrew Tyndall, found that viewers on both sides of Wednesday's debate were more satisfied with Schieffer than Tom Brokaw.

More than 2,700 volunteers who completed a "Citizens' Media Scorecard" rated Schieffer's performance. Sixty-two percent of U.S. Sen. John McCain's supporters and 72% of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama's supporters rated the questions as "extremely serious and relevant."

Obama supporters outnumbered McCain's, so Free Press contrasted ratings instead of combining them and warned that they do not represent the overall population. Sixty-two percent from each camp said Schieffer was the top moderator, while just 8% of McCain's supporters and 6% of Obama's supporters said Brokaw was the best moderator.

Majorities of both groups rated Schieffer "just right" on his attention to health care (81%), education (78%), abortion (74%), and energy (72%). The majority also approved of his focus on federal spending (67%), taxes (65%), housing (59%), and jobs (56%).

Still, 64% of McCain's supporters and 58% of Obama's supporters said Schieffer did not do enough to challenge factual misstatements or spin.

"This concern has been consistent in prior debates, with many reporting that the debate format limited the public's ability to get engaged in the discussion, while not allowing enough leeway for a departure from scripted answers," Free Press explained in a statement. One viewer said he did not understand why there is an audience, since members cannot engage with the candidates or demonstrate their sentiments through applause or other means. Another viewer said moderators should allow voters to post their questions online, rank them, and have them posed to the candidates. Others called for instant fact-checking.

The Open Debate Coalition wants to open the process by putting the debate footage into the public domain so people can post clips and commentary on YouTube and "otherwise share key moments without being deemed copyright lawbreakers."

Both candidates have said they back the group's efforts to make the debates more open. Now, the Open Debate Coalition wants to dismantle the Commission on Presidential Debates to accomplish that goal.

Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig urged coalition members to continue pushing for video rights to this year's debates, attempt to reform or eliminate the commission, and attempt to open state, local, and congressional debates.

I say voters have every right to have their questions answered. And, I can think of nothing more public than campaign statements coming from potential public office-holders.

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