WASHINGTON – U.S. media critics, foreign policy experts and human rights advocates are accusing the moderators of this year’s televised presidential debates of asking trivial questions designed to produce conflict, rather than addressing the country’s most pressing issues.

Danny Schechter, editor of Mediachannel.org, a media watchdog organization, said the failings of the candidate debates “lie with the whole process, which focuses on personalities, media-mediated discussions and what I call ‘electotainment’–stoking conflict, not searching for solutions.” He added that the moderators have been seeking “heat, not light.”

His view has been echoed by many others who are also critical both of moderators for failing to ask a wide range of serious questions and of candidates for failing to raise these questions.


So far, 20 debates of the presidential contenders have been televised. They were sponsored principally by cable television news channels such as CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, and moderated by TV anchors, joined by a few print journalists.

While important subjects were discussed in the debates–health care, world trade, the economy, education and terrorism–a wide range of other areas were largely ignored. The subjects never or rarely raised by primary contest debate moderators include presidential signing statements, the limits of presidential authority, the separation of powers, the role of the courts, warrantless wiretapping, rendition, the Guantanamo detention center and military commissions, secret CIA prisons, and many other issues involving civil liberties and human rights.

“It seems as if that there is almost an agreement among all the parties not to deal with these subjects,” said Michael Ratner, a law professor at Columbia University and president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is defending a number of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Many activists and analysts interviewed also blamed the media more than the candidates. (IPS/GIN)