Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Return to the scene of the crime

Return to the scene of the crime

There's a big debate tonight between Joe Sestak and Pat Toomey in the Pennsylvania Senate race. The chief moderator is George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, and the venue is the National Constitution Center here in Philadelphia. If that last part sounds familiar, it is because it was there in April 2008 that the former-Clinton-aide-turned-newsman and his ABC partner Charlie Gibson presided over one of the lowest moments in modern American journalism, a largely issue-free presidential debate between Democratic rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in which a number of inane questions (about flag pins and Obama's "link" with William Ayers of the 1960s Weather Underground) were lamely ripped from the right-wing talking points.

For what it's worth, the fired-up (and perhaps a tad overcaffienated) blog post I wrote after watching these high crimes against journalism remains, to this day, the most widely read post in the history of Attytood, and by a good margin. Here's an excerpt:

With your performance tonight -- your focus on issues that were at best trivial wastes of valuable airtime and at worst restatements of right-wing falsehoods, punctuated by inane "issue" questions that in no way resembled the real world concerns of American voters -- you disgraced my profession of journalism, and, by association, me and a lot of hard-working colleagues who do still try to ferret out the truth, rather than worry about who can give us the best deal on our capital gains taxes. But it's even worse than that. By so badly botching arguably the most critical debate of such an important election, in a time of both war and economic misery, you disgraced the American voters, and in fact even disgraced democracy itself. Indeed, if I were a citizen of one of those nations where America is seeking to "export democracy," and I had watched the debate, I probably would have said, "no thank you." Because that was no way to promote democracy.

You implied throughout the broadcast that you wanted to reflect the concerns of voters in Pennsylvania. Well, I'm a Pennsylvanian [sic] voter, and so are my neighbors and most of my friends and co-workers. You asked virtually nothing that reflected our everyday issues -- trying to fill our gas tanks and save for college at the same time, our crumbling bridges and inadequate mass transit, or the root causes of crime here in Philadelphia. In fact, there almost isn't enough space -- and this is cyberspace, where room is unlimited -- to list all the things you could have asked about but did not, from health care to climate change to alternative energy to our policy toward China to the deterioration of Afghanistan to veterans' benefits to improving education. You ignored virtually everything that just happened in what most historians agree is one of the worst presidencies in American history, including the condoning of torture and the trashing of the Constitution, although to be fair you also ignored the policy concerns of people on the right, like immigration issues.

Will Stephanopoulos do better tonight? He cannot do any worse than he did in Philadelphia on April 16, 2008.

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Will Bunch
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