Rigging the Presidential Debates


The three upcoming so-called presidential debates (actually parallel interviews) between Obama and Romney show the pathetic mainstream campaign press for what it is – a mass of dittoheads desperately awaiting gaffes or some visual irregularity by any of the candidates. The press certainly does not demand elementary material from the candidates such as the secret debate contract negotiated by the Obama and Romney campaigns that controls the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), the campaigns’ corporate offspring.

A similar secret contract between George W. Bush and John Kerry in 2004, obtained by George Farah, executive director of Open Debates (www.opendebates.org) showed just how the two Parties rig the debate process. Both Parties agreed that they would: (1) not request any additional debates, (2) not appear at any other debate or adversarial forum with any other presidential or vice presidential candidate, and (3) not accept any television or radio air time offers that involve a debate format. Were this deal to be between two corporations, they could be prosecuted for criminal violation of the antitrust laws.

This year voters are not allowed to know about the current backroom fix between Obama and Romney.

Farah revealed more. The Bush/Kerry closeout of the voters and the media extended to their agreeing not to ask each other direct questions but only rhetorical questions, and to clear any questions from the audience by their chosen moderator prior to the debates. Of course third party candidates are excluded. In 2000 and 2004, national polls showed majorities wanting me in the debates – the only way non-billionaires could reach tens of millions of voters – but the captive CPD and their compliant director, Janet Brown, created other exclusionary barriers.

Nothing seems to motivate the mainstream campaign press into challenging the two Party duopoly, its definition of important questions, or the rancid corporate sponsorship of the debates down to the hospitality parties the corporatists hold at the debate locations in Colorado, New York and Florida this October. The reporters must like the free wine and food.

Nor did the supine press inform the voters of recent written requests by numerous organizations in the Pittsburgh, District of Columbia and Portland, Oregon regions inviting the presidential candidates to debate in these areas (http://nader.org/2012/09/18/ralph-nader-dc-organizations-call-for-presidential-debate/). Heaven forbid that the people strive to shape the presidential debate process and weaken the duopoly’s grip. Imagine a democratic process.

Substantively, the supine press applies its own rules. Rule One is to avoid pressing questions that extend the public’s agenda beyond what the two major candidates are wrangling over. So if they don’t debate pulling back from unauthorized wars, invasions, incursions or other important foreign policy moves they are not asked. Rule Two is to ignore what major civic groups or groups with credible track records propose for the candidates to address. So Obama and Romney are not pressed by the press to expressly respond to many important issues including: what they would do on law enforcement against corporate crime, fraud and abuse, whether they favor a $10 minimum wage that catches up to 1968, inflation adjusted, for thirty million workers, or on their positions on either a Wall Street speculation tax that can raise big money or even a carbon tax.

Union organizing rights, workers’ health and safety, and a variety of important consumer protections are scarcely on the press table even when their own colleagues often report on these timely subjects.

When a matter is super-timely and they can interview the nation’s foremost expert on the politics of presidential debates – George Farah, author of No Debate – the major media is not interested. They have rejected his op-eds. Apart from local radio shows, he cannot get on national public radio, public TV or the commercial networks. It is not for lack of space and time being devoted to the Presidential campaigns.

I know Farah. He worked for me over a decade ago, right out of Princeton before going to Harvard Law School. He is an interviewers’ dream –speaks crisply, cogently and convincingly.

Maybe reporters should be given “curiosity training sessions” about what the public needs and wants to know but that the candidates are not interested in discussing.

Maybe columnists should work with the people on the ground instead of just working off clips and dealing with political flaks who restrict access to the candidates. Some columnists could benefit from a sabbatical for self-renewal.

Maybe editors and producers should expand beyond the usual “talking heads” and give the many important outside voices and movements some deserved coverage.

Our country needs a better performance by the major media that is stuck in routines, ruts and stagnant self-censorship from the national to the local levels. This is especially true of the concentrated television industry that uses our public airwaves, free of charge.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.


Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxembourg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving
Joseph Grosso
The Enduring Tragedy: Guatemala’s Bloody Farce
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Imperial Myths: the Enduring Lie of the US’s Origin
Ralph Nader
The Joys of Solitude: a Thanksgiving!

Joseph G. Ramsey
Something to be Thankful For: Struggles, Seeds…and Surprises
Dan Glazebrook
Turkey Shoot: the Rage of the Impotent in Syria
Andrew Stewart
The Odious President Wilson
Colin Todhunter
Corporate Parasites And Economic Plunder: We Need A Genuine Green Revolution
Rajesh Makwana
Ten Billion Reasons to Demand System Change
Joyce Nelson
Turkey Moved the Border!
Richard Baum
Hillary Clinton’s Meager Proposal to Help Holders of Student Debt
Sam Husseini
A Thanksgiving Day Prayer
November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey