Friday, January 29, 2016

Have Debates in the YouTube Era Morphed into Social Media Events?

Candidates have criticized "gotcha questions." Last night's Fox News debate featured "gotcha videos." Do they have a place in debates?

Was Megyn Kelly's new 'do the most newsworthy event of the night? Maybe.

I keed about Megyn's 'do (a little). But for me what was really newsworthy was the use of video montages as "gotcha" moments in the Fox debate last night. For all I know, they've been used in prior debates, especially this cycle. I can't recall. But it is a major departure.

It's as if the NFL decided that this year, for the playoffs, they're instituting a brand new rule: Defenses are allowed to bring out huge Gatorade coolers and dowse the quarterbacks before all 3rd-and-long plays.

It's that big a departure from the concept of a debate, in my view. A debate is a verbal event in which one side -- or multiple sides -- has to present its viewpoint and defend it. The weapon? The mouth. A moderator's job is to control the flow of the debate, make sure rules are followed, and to steer the contenders toward confronting issues of the day.

Since when is it the job of the moderator to provoke -- in the case of Donald Trump's beef with Megyn Kelly -- or to accuse -- with props! -- one side or the other?

If debate formats are allow to morph beyond pitting one side's verbiage against another, why not just introduce gloves, or squirt guns?

Heaven help us. Leave it to the Hollywood Reporter to track this innovation:
But a little later something wonderful happened. Megyn Kelly teased it before a commercial break, promising the viewing audience "something you've never seen before." What was it, the nation wondered? Trump suddenly riding in on a white horse? The candidates engaging in a dirty dancing contest? Chris Christie in a speedo?
Better. It was the use of "gotcha" videos first of Marco Rubio and then of Ted Cruz, showing them blatantly contradicting themselves on policy positions throughout the years. Rubio was particularly flustered by this new and highly effective brand of attack, which concentrated on his flip-flopping on immigration and amnesty, responding with a litany of tough steps he would take, including tracking immigrants like Federal Express packages. And he didn't even give credit for the idea to Chris Christie.
I'm not saying where I land on this. Maybe post-Internet, future political debates will feature YouTube video, Instagram feeds, Twitter embeds, facebook compilations, hell, the whole kitchen sink of the Information Age. Fine, but at some point we need to stop calling them debates and call them what there are. Food fights? Gotcha-no-gotchyou!-fests? Facebook-offs?

Damn you, Al Gore!

Note. I couldn't find any sign of the gotcha videos in question on the webs today. I'll be watching out for them. Oh, and as for my personal feelings about the video-montage-as-lethal-weapons used against Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio? It couldn't have happened to two nicer lying bastards.

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