15 October 2008

Second Verse, Same As the First: Politics Is NOT a Lecture

OK, now I'm really steamed. And this really has nothing to do with my political affiliation. Congressman Ed Whitfield apparently believes politics is about "I talk, you listen."

Like most members of Kentucky's congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, refused to face his challenger for a live statewide debate arranged by Kentucky Educational Television.

Unlike the other incumbents, who simply didn't show up, Whitfield and his attorneys demanded that KET on Monday air an unedited videotaped statement that he submitted, to run after Democratic challenger Heather Ryan of Paducah took half an hour of questions from journalists.

The crazy thing is KET actually agreed to the demand and gave the Congressman 30 minutes of airtime, while Ryan, who actually showed up for the debate, was subjected to questioning from the media. Not surprisingly, Ryan was a bit miffed:

Ryan said she was shocked to discover just hours before her scheduled appearance that KET would allow the congressman to skip the live debate, but still get televised time to say things she could not respond to.

"This completely changes the dynamics of everything KET and its debates are supposed to be about," Ryan said. "Why would any incumbent ever agree to a debate if all you have to do is skip the questions and the rebuttals and just submit a campaign commercial, which KET will broadcast for free?"

Shockingly, there are serious disagreements about what the law says about "equal time." Start with the premise that candidates benefit when they're put on television for a length of time to answer questions. That's true enough. But each candidate is given the opportunity to appear, and one declined. An interview and a commercial are NOT the same things. One has some semblance of accountability while the other gets to make unchallenged statements.

I wrote about this just last week. Republicans can certainly make an argument that the "mainstream media" is biased. But they are not helping themselves when they abandon the political discussion and force a lecture upon the electorate. This is the reason Republicans are losing in droves this year - the clear message the public hears from this is "I refuse to be held accountable for my positions and decisions."

This is also the reason social media has advanced so much in the current election cycle. Americans are tired of being told what's what and not having the opportunity to shape the debate. Mainstream media remains the primary vehicle for accountability, but it's the people who are using social media channels to have an immediate and dramatic impact on our politics. The further people like Sarah Palin and Ed Whitfield move toward the lecture and away from the discussion, the worse they'll do. They talk about "rejecting the filter of the media and talking directly to the people" but that's all they're doing. They're not listening to the people. They're trying to keep the people from talking back. They're forgetting who they serve.

That's just not gonna work anymore. What does it say about a candidate who won't subject himself to 30 minutes of questioning from Kentucky public television? In my mind, the choice is clear - one candidate is interested in the discussion and one is interested in giving a lecture. Since Heather Ryan is interested in the discussion, I'll give her the last word:

Monday's KET appearance was going to be the only debate this year between Whitfield and Ryan, since Whitfield has skipped all other joint appearances, Ryan said. The network's decision is disappointing and undermines its public-service mission, she said.

"I drove six hours with two kids from Paducah (to the KET studios in Lexington) to answer questions for the people of Kentucky because I thought this was important. Ed Whitfield couldn't make the time?" she asked.

1 comment:

M. Edward Robinson said...

So, Whitfield goes one step further than McCain, and actually does abandon the debate. What a jerk.