Saturday, October 11, 2008

Leaders Come Together to Demand Real Debate; A Letter I Could Sign

What would be important enough to unite leaders as diverse as Jimmy Wales (the founder of Wikipedia), Lawrence Lessig (Stanford Law Professor), Arianna Huffington (Founder of the Huffington Post), and bloggers from The Next (a conservative grassroots blog)?

Real Presidential Debates.

Several sources, including this blog have critiqued the previous three debates as being unproductive and being too loose with the questioning by the moderators. John Harris, and Jim VandeHei called the debate from this week the worst debate ever, from Politico:
But the Belmont University showdown was something entirely different. Place the gravity of the moment next to the blah-blah-blah artifice of the rhetoric and overall insubstantiality of the evening, and this is what you get: the worst presidential debate ever.

The day after leaves behind a puzzle: How the hell did candidates manage to be so timid and uninspiring at a time when American troops are in two problematic wars, the world financial markets are in scary freefall and the Dow has lost 1,400 points since Oct. 1? This is a moment history rarely sees — and both men blew it.

In response, the people mentioned above along with many others have written a letter to both campaigns asking the Senators to allow the moderator to ask follow up questions and to accept more questions from the internet. Read the full letter below:

Dear Senator McCain and Senator Obama,

Thank you for your recent letters affirming our coalition’s open debate principles, designed to make this year’s presidential debates more “of the people” than ever before. As we approach the final debate on October 15, we ask you to proactively implement such principles right away.

The closed nature of the recent debates has been universally criticized. The editors of Politico wrote, “The presidential debate commission’s rules are a scandal” resulting in “a format designed to limit improvisation, intellectual engagement, and truth-telling.” 83% of Obama supporters and 75% of McCain supporters agree that tough follow-up questions were lacking. Even Saturday Night Live spoofed the lack of follow-up questions in the debates, and the watered-down “town hall” questions chosen.

Therefore, we ask you to jointly announce the following in advance of the October 15 debate:

1) That the debate moderator has broad discretion to ask follow-up questions after a candidate’s answer, so the public can be fully informed about specific positions.

2) That after a “town hall” debate full of questions handpicked by the moderator, none of which were outside-the-box, you will allow Bob Schieffer to ask some Internet questions voted on by the public in the fashion outlined in our previous letter – which you agreed to. Existing technology will make this easy.

3) That, as a stipulation of the next debate, the media pool must release all 2008 debate footage into the public domain – as you agreed would be in the public interest. CNN, ABC, and NBC agreed to release video rights during the primary, and CBS agreed more recently. But Fox threatened Senator McCain for using a debate clip during the primary, and NBC invoked copyright law against Senator Obama to stifle political speech recently. The public deserves to know debate video can be reused without fear of breaking the law.

4) That you agree to work with the Open Debate Coalition after the election to reform or create an alternative to the Commission on Presidential Debates, so that the debate process is transparent and accountable to the public. Despite both of your agreement with the open debate principles, the Commission did nothing to implement them – or even to engage in dialogue about potential implementation. Also, the “31-page memo of understanding” with debate rules is nowhere on the Commission’s website, and has not been turned over despite requests.

The signers of this letter don’t agree on every political issue. But we do agree that in order for Americans to make the best decision for president, we need open debates that are “of the people” in the ways described above. You have the power to make that happen, and we ask you to do so.

Thank you for your willingness to take these ideas to heart. If you have any questions, please contact:


Lawrence Lessig; Professor, Stanford Law School, Founder, Center for Internet and Society

Ellen Miller; Executive Director, Sunlight Foundation

Craig Newmark; Founder, Craigslist

Jimmy Wales; Founder, Wikipedia

Aaron Swartz; Founder, Reddit

Patrick Ruffini; Republican consultant, former Republican National Committee eCampaign Director, and a blogger at

Mindy Finn; Republican strategist, former Mitt Romney Online Director, and a blogger at

Eli Pariser; Executive Director, Political Action

Adam Green; Director of Strategic Campaigns, Political Action

Arianna Huffington; Founder,

Markos Moulitsas; Founder,

Roger L. Simon, CEO, Pajamas Media

Eric Burns; President, Media Matters for America

K. Daniel Glover, Executive Producer, Media Research Center’s, and of AirCongress

Jon Henke; New media consultant (including for Fred Thompson, George Allen, Senate Republican Caucus) and a blogger at

Matt Stoller; Founder/Editor,

James Rucker; Executive Director,

Andrew Rasiej; Personal Democracy Forum and

Micah Sifry; Personal Democracy Forum and

Bill Mitchell; Professor, MIT

Josh Silver; Executive Director, Free Press

Carl Malamud; Founder, Public.Resource.Org

Clay Johnson; Director, Sunlight Labs

Robert Greenwald; President, BraveNewFilms

Kim Gandy; President, National Organization for Women

Roger Hickey; Co-Director, Campaign for America's Future

Billy Hallowell, Director of Content, VoterWatch

David Colarusso; Founder,

No comments: