Why are the so-called Presidential debates more of a grab-ass sideshow than a discourse on the issues? It is the overarching commitment of the mainstream and cable networks to what has become known as “infotainment.” Old fashioned “news” has become totally polluted with entertainment value, in the quest to make news shows generate substantial ratings and be profitable. Back in the days when there were fewer news choices on TV, and in the era of public television, the news programs were not known as “shows” and could stand on their own. Now the formula must contain fun and blatantly heartwarming segments, in addition to the sensational “if it bleeds, it leads” content on disasters, fires and mayhem. The hell with issues that a democratic society should care about, such as economics, education, jobs, legislation, et al.
These so-called televised Presidential debates, of course, are not debates at all; they are “showcases” for the potential candidates, and at the most, political forums. The interviewers focus on provocations and personal attacks, and not on straight forward exploratory questions on the main issues. They seem designed to take of time and space, and sell commercials, rather than provide useful information. Yes, the audiences are probably larger than they would be if boring “issue” questions predominated, but thoughtful viewers are left with a thin gruel of content.
What is needed? Separate “information” from “entertainment,” subsidizing the “news,” to the extent necessary with profits from the entertainment divisions of the media. If the journalists and the journalism are of a high calibre, the news does not have to be boring, even it it is substantially devoid of laughs and sensationalism. And please, a debate should be about two people being challenged to discuss their views on real issues. Anything else is not a debate. Maybe a “showcase” or maybe a “forum,” or maybe just a free-for-all. Just call it a “reality show,” and put “infotainment” where it belongs, and stop wasting our attention span on political trivia.