On Monday, the first debate featuring all but two of the key GOP contenders for the presidency will occur.
Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, businessman Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum will participate in the debate on the campus of St. Anselm College.
Once again, GOP primary voters will only get to see their would-be-nominees through a lens ground by traditional media. The event is being sponsored by CNN, local television station WMUR and the New Hampshire Union Leader.
CNN correspondent John King will moderate the debate, with reporters from the local outlets. No doubt these are fine journalists, but like John King, they will almost certainly carry with them all the biases and predispositions of the mainstream media. We all know this built-in bias exists, but still the candidates (except Sarah Palin) agree to play by those rules.
Expect the standard stunt questions on abortion in the event of rape or incest, WMD, evolution, global warming or any of a dozen other dog whistles to the left designed to create the moment that replicates across the Web, seeking to wound prospects by defining the GOP field as outside the mainstream.
They will do so even as the panel glides over the issues of national security and the woeful economic conditions that ought to dominate. Imagine FDR participating in debates in 1931 and being asked about anything but the Depression and the adequacy of Hoover’s response to it.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus promised last week to release soon the schedule of a set of GOP-organized debates with GOP-selected questioners. Those forums ought to give plenty of time to each candidate to address the most important issues facing the country.
On June 18 in Des Moines, for instance, I will be moderating a forum on deficit reduction for StrongAmericaNow.com, but we need a dozen such focused conversations that minimize the role of the questioners, not a dozen mainstream media carnivals that turn on the whims of MSMers.
The downgraded role of the questioners in such a forum tears at the hearts of television producers who are looking for “moments,” for dramatic clips that can be repackaged into highlight reels and promos and spliced into demo tapes by talking heads looking for a step-up in market or pay.
Serious debates about serious subjects are not the way their media game works. Rather, the questioners simply stay away from statements about the president’s performance that reflect the concerns of the GOP primary audience and deflect viewers from the economic problems that ought to define the debates.
Examiner columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.