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CNN: American Public Can’t Be Trusted To Vote On Debate Questions

By Amanda Terkel on November 28, 2007 at 4:15 pm

"CNN: American Public Can’t Be Trusted To Vote On Debate Questions"

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The CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate tonight will allow people nationwide to upload a 30-second video to YouTube and ask questions directly to the candidates. After a similar Democratic debate in July, members of the media hailed the format as “historic.”

Yet CNN staff still selected which YouTube questions were presented to the candidates — as they will tonight — often resulting in “bland, softball” questions being posed. Several technology experts have called on debate organizers to go a step further and involve the public “in deciding which video questions were worth airing.”

But in an interview with Wired, CNN senior vice president David Bohrman defended CNN’s methods, arguing that the public can’t be trusted to choose intelligent questions:

For all the talk about online voter empowerment, the web is still too immature a medium to set an agenda for a national debate, says CNN senior vice president David Bohrman.

“If you would have taken the most-viewed questions last time, the top question would have been whether Arnold Schwarzenegger was a cyborg sent to save the planet Earth,” says Bohrman, the debate’s executive producer. “The second-most-viewed video question was: Will you a convene a national meeting on UFOs?”

Are the public’s questions really all that different from the ones chosen by journalists? After all, at the Oct. 31 Democratic debate, moderator Tim Russert also asked a “serious question” to Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) about whether he ever saw a UFO. Watch it:

And of course, at its recent Democratic debate, CNN prevented UNLV student Maria Luisa from asking a serious question about Yucca Mountain, telling her to instead ask Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), “Do you prefer diamonds or pearls?

In August, The New York Times surveyed seven people with “experience in both new media and old” to describe what a “a real new-media debate” would look like. Read the piece here.

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