Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Better than Lipstick on a Pig

If you feel that pigs with lipstick and Paris Hilton have hijacked our political discourse this election season, you're not alone.

Mainstream news shows have devoted too much attention to trivia, and too little to information that voters say matter most.

This Friday's presidential debate with Jim Lehrer of PBS moderating may be a chance to get the media back on track. But if past is prologue, we can expect another parade of the petty.

Media Matters analyzed the 2,304 questions asked during the 31 primary debates earlier this year. Of these, only 9 percent of the questions addressed the economy -- counted by Americans as the most important issue today, followed by the war, healthcare, energy policy and jobs.

Meanwhile, debate moderators piled on the fluff, asking questions about personality and other "non-substantive" matters more than 30 percent of the time.

The final Democratic primary debate, with ABC News' Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, was a low point. The moderators devoted the first 45 minutes to questions about flag pins, former pastors and candidate sniping before raising a single question about Iraq or the economy.

Free Press hopes to help remedy this during this Friday's debate. We have devised a "Citizens Media Scorecard" that will allow thousands of debate watchers to "score" the performance of the media moderators during the final four presidential and vice presidential debates.

These real-time ratings will be analyzed by esteemed media researcher Andrew Tyndall of the Tyndall Report and immediately fed back to hundreds of political and media reporters as soon as the debates are finished -- allowing the public to weigh in before the media spin cycle gets out of control.

Debates are marquee moments in American elections. The few journalists selected to participate -- and the media narrative that follows -- will play a defining role in determining our next president.

Before Americans close the curtains on this election, we deserve real political discourse from our media. If the news organizations aren't up to the task, it's up to us to hold our media -- and through them, our leaders -- accountable.

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