Spectator Editorial: Hiding out

When four Republican candidates received an invitation in August to debate women’s issues, they were, understandably, a little hesitant.

According to an Oct. 26 article in The Spectator, Sen. Ron Brown, R-Eau Claire; Sen. Dave Zen, R-Chippewa Falls; Rep. Rob Kreibich, R-Eau Claire; and Rep. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls, sent a letter on Oct. 17 declaring that they wouldn’t attend the Oct. 23 debate. In the letter, they said they did not like the debate’s format and doubted the motives of its sponsors, which included the Association of University Women. They said in the letter that a member of one of the women’s groups sponsoring the forum had donated money to some of the Democrats in the debate.

The Republicans were justified in doubting the impartiality of the forum. In the past, Democrats have done the same in debates sponsored by right-leaning groups. The nature of political coverage has changed the nature of debates. Sponsoring them in hopes that certain candidates won’t show up has become a political strategy. In the end, it’s the voters who lose out.

When one side doesn’t show up to debate, the media tend to focus on that absence when they cover the event. The party that showed up then automatically “wins,” and the discussion that took place among the participants that attended gets buried in the story.

But the media cover these events this way because that’s what their audience wants to hear about. Election coverage that focuses on the “horse race” of election season gets better ratings, and while they may want to cover the substance of the debate as well, lack of printing space or broadcast time can be prohibitive.

More debates need to be hosted in neutral settings – schools, city council meetings, or even by media organizations. When candidates can be less skeptical about the setting they’re walking into, they can spend more time having a truly open dialogue That’s what debates were meant for in the first place.D