Some advice for CNN

I am writing this post more as a student of journalism, rather than a political analyst.

The CNN/You Tube debate tonight was fresh, and the format will be here to stay. Many of the questions were pointed and reflected the concerns of millions of Americans. However, I also believe there was a lot of wasted potential and a few issues that simply should be fixed:

1. There should be no excuse for technical problems at these debates. Why in the world were the microphones cutting off in the middle of the candidates' responses? Did anyone not conduct a sound check? This is not the first debate CNN has sponsored that was plagued by technical problems. The CNN brand is supposed to reflect the gold standard of journalism. However, having microphone problems (again) makes it look like the junior varsity squad is in charge of production.

2. Mike Gravel should not be invited to any further debates. He serves no purpose other than to vent and waste everyone's time. As I predicted in my previous post, I anticipated him trying to take somebody else down with him. Obama almost got caught in the crossfire, but Gravel bungled the attack, much to Obama's relief. However, all in all, Gravel clearly sounds angry, rather than presidential, and is only good for making the other Democrats look moderate by comparison. He is not a credible candidate, nor is he a viable one.

3. Whose idea was it to leave all that blank space on the screen when the actual You Tube videos were being played? It was quite difficult to see some of the videos, especially those that had no voiceovers and relied solely on printed words on the screen or placards. There was so much wasted space there. Either enlarge the video size or cut out the dead space. Why not put the submitter's name and location under the video and then enlarge both? Having them side by side created a lot of empty space.

4. When a candidate veers off topic and reverts to his or her talking points, the moderator should cut the microphone and move onto the next question for the next candidate. Chris Dodd and John Edwards were especially guilty of this. Anderson Cooper did his best to rein in the candidates, but they were determined to stay on message. This violated the request mentioned at the very beginning--that candidates actually respond to the questions directly rather than revert to their stump speeches. The candidates knew they could get away with violating this rule, and they did.

5. Questions that have no real merit or have nothing to do with policy positions or agendas should not be included. What was the point of the question from the guy holding up a quarter and asking what "in God we trust" means? What was the point of the "is Hillary woman enough" and "is Obama Black enough" questions? To feature these questions is to legitimize them. But these are not real issues at all and serve no real purpose other than to reinforce class and racial divisions, which benefits nobody.

Having said that, credit should be given where credit is due:

1. Anderson Cooper did a reasonably good job of balancing talk time among the candidates while giving more credible candidates a bit more time to respond. Mike Gravel complained a bit about not having enough talk time, but I think the audience appreciated this particular imbalance.

2. Most of the questions asked were sharp and put the candidates in a bind. Credit should be given to the team that sifted through the thousands and thousands of submissions. I found myself criticizing the candidates for not answering some of the questions directly because I knew some of the questions were too hot for them to handle. The question about sending US troops to Darfur was a perfect example of this.

3. Including a few of the lighter videos added a nice touch. Sprinkling a few of these questions throughout the debate helped keep the audience interested and the candidates loose. This even led to a few memorable moments, such as Biden saying the people of Tennessee were probably embarrassed by the man with the exaggerated Southern accent who asked if their feelings were hurt by stories of Al Gore's possible entry into the race.

4. Anderson Cooper did his best to pin down some of the candidates when they tried to dodge some of the questions. Credit goes to Cooper for trying to cut through the spin and political-speak and get a clear answer to an honest question.

5. This format worked and is likely here to stay. I think this format is a triumph for citizen journalists and will definitely make politics more accessible to young people and average people. It gives voters a real sense of ownership and control to know that they can directly influence events such as this.

Final grade: B+

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