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Why do news networks stage presidential debates?

by on September 28, 2016

We have spoken in class now about the most recent presidential debate and even been posed the question of how best “fact-checking” should be done.

Lester Holt, who moderated Monday night’s debate at Hofstra University, was the subject of much debate himself leading up to the event. Mainly, the question that arose was how much of a role the well-known news anchor should play in the affair-should Lester Holt interject at every inaccuracy?

Politico published an article Monday on the issue of fact-checking. Citing numerous sources, including Clinton’s camp, as well as Trump himself, and a whole host of other prominent figures, the general consensus regarding the moderator’s role of fact-checking, was entirely split.

Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, said she thought that for Holt to serve as the “Encyclopedia Britannica” as she so elegantly stated, would “not be a good idea.”

Editor of Politifact.com (which published an in-depth analysis of Monday’s debate) Angie Drobnic Holan said she did not understand how “these debates haven’t caught up with 21st century technology yet,” adding that she didn’t understand given the vast number of people who decide the fate of their vote that “there is some hesitation by the media to disrupt this tradition.”

Meanwhile Bob Schieffer, a former debate moderator, ambiguously noted how difficult the task would be for Holt and the two after him in moderating these debates, but that he thought “they’ll do fine.”

But, what is fine?

No one in the media, and certainly not from any political party seems to agree. In truth I feel there is no correct path for the media to take in this plight. Not at least why they are still hosting them.

I brought up briefly how I did not feel it in the best interests of the media at large to even host the events. Republican Nominee Donald Trump, who’s given a platform from which to yell things on national television by cable news networks, has in fact waged a “war” on media since his entering of the race in June 2015. In that time he’s tweeted 256 accusatory messages toward major media sources, while only tweeting 140 that directly attack Hillary Clinton.

This begs the question in my eyes, of what is there to gain? Is a public good still being provided with these debates? It is not the civic duty of CNN or NBC or any other network to stage these events for the candidates.

It is in fact no one’s civic duty to do such. It amounts to free air time, an invaluable asset in any campaign of this magnitude. What are either candidates doing to garner such attention if we as the media, instead of benefiting the country with covering them, end up debating how best to deal with the pair spewing lies and fallacies endlessly on live televison?

The only answer I have come up with is ratings.

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