The Commission on Presidential Debates has announced the schedule of 2020 presidential debates. President Donald Trump should quickly dismiss that schedule as unacceptable and announce that if any debates will be held at all in 2020, it will be only after extensive direct negotiations between him and the eventual nominee of the Democratic Party and their respective designated representatives.
And those negotiations should begin from a premise that the Republicans will no longer play by the biased rules of a deeply unbalanced Manhattan-Beltway media elite. Explicitly articulating this declaration of intent now, along with the possibility that, as in 1968 and 1972, there won't be any debates, would do both the public and the elite media a great service.
Trumpian denunciations of "fake news" are a staple of every presidential rally and Big Media's compilations of alleged "lies" by the president are routine and routinely ignored or dismissed on the right. The anger and disdain toward the president and his administration in newsrooms--stoked by two years of dry-hole drilling by Robert Mueller and now a sham impeachment--have bankrupted even the pretense of objectivity by Manhattan-Beltway media elites. Most everyone I work with--from left to right--tries to be fair in our questions and competent in our craft. But the overwhelming weight of the ideology of the collective newsroom has resulted in an avalanche of bias.
The Manhattan-Beltway media elite seems to the center-right of the country at large to be overwhelmingly committed to the defeat of Trump. Essentially half of the United States expects the four debates will, in fact, be four ambushes by the combined forces of the Democratic nominee and the elite media operating in tandem, though not in explicit coordination.
So the assumptions on which the debate commission were founded are simply not applicable anymore. The commission hasn't failed in its mission. It has been overtaken by events on the ground, and any role it serves going forward will be meaningful only if its ground rules on moderators, question length and so on change dramatically.
Trump is the incumbent who can restore presidential debates to serious exercises in exploring the crucial differences between the two major-party candidates, but he has to begin by taking a wrecking ball to the perceived entitlement of a system begun before cellphones and the Internet and built on the thoroughly debunked belief in media "objectivity." So start over. There are plenty of alternatives, and the best would involve open access and genuinely smart, diverse questioners who are not rehearsed to seek conflict, headlines or ratings. A lesser dose of media celebrity is a higher dose of fairness to the voters.
Act quickly, Mr. President. The announcement won't end media bias. It won't heal any breaches. But the discussion of what, if anything, comes a year from now will be out on the table and openly debated, as it should be in a free republic.
Editorial on 10/21/2019
Print Headline: Art of the debate deal