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The Debate About Debates Will Continue to Rage On

There’s been so much talk about debates ever since President Joe Biden and Donald Trump agreed to two of them.

Do we need them? If so, how many? Too many. Not enough. Who are they even for?

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Microphones: Should there be a kill switch?

Audience: To have or to have not.

Then, there’s the issue of the moderating.

Why does everyone stink at it? How involved should they be? How many should there be? Even on Barrett News Media, their very own existence was put up for debate.

I have done one in my career. It was “meh” at best. It may be one of my legitimate blind spots (and here you are, thinking I can do anything).

Despite all of those above questions and a certain modicum of self-doubt about my ability to perform the duty well, I am all in for doing them locally — whenever and wherever possible.

In studio. At a diner. Library. Church. Ice cream shop. You name it.

Why?

Good, bad, or indifferent, it satisfies a big thirst in the local news desert, and it’s great exposure for the station and the show.

The companies that produce written words (formerly known as newspapers) don’t seem overly interested in leading the way with political coverage. When there’s a news conference or nominating event, they cover it, but there’s very little enterprise reporting at the moment.

Same with television, and some local stations don’t even have a dedicated political reporter anymore.

10 years ago, congressional candidates might not even consider a radio-focused debate. Television was king, and newspapers were thorough. Now, as it sits, things are different, and if I land a congressional or senate race, I can go get TV to simulcast – and not the other way around. Even if the TV stations don’t bite on the opportunity, I can record it myself and post it on YouTube.

Having said all that, I am not 100 percent certain of this, but I think it’s true. And we’re about to test it.

My initial approach is the lowest-hanging fruit – candidates who need exposure badly. In my state, that’s the Republican primary in the race to face two-time incumbent Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). Murphy is a huge favorite, and the Republican primary will get very little attention.

Motivated candidates. Under-the-radar race. Perfect for me.

Then, there’s actually a race garnering national attention that I will take a shot at. Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District has a rematch from 2022, and it’s close – really close. The Republican candidate will take as many debates as possible, and the Democrat may bite because my show has a lot of unaffiliated voters. She needs them to keep her seat.

As for the debates themselves? Let’s be honest, there’s a cringy-ness to political debates. People are nervous. Time is limited, and it’s bizarre to say negative things about a person when they are right next to you.

That’s why we watch and listen even if our minds are made up about voting.

As a moderator, the issues are myriad. What kind of format should you have? Well-defined timing and rebuttals or let them go? How do you fact-check in real-time when you have a staff of two? What kind of questions should you ask? Where should it be? Live audience? Allow parties to have an equal number of “guests”, or have it be a free-for-all for attendance?

I’ve determined that it’s a no-win for the moderator. Interrupt too much, and you’re a jerk. Stick to time too much, and you’re a neurotic jerk. Let them go, and you’re a wimp. Have an imbalance in talk time, and you’re biased.

I don’t care; it’s worth it, especially since single-host radio seems more fluid and better set up for authentic debate. I won’t (hopefully) have to share time with one or two other moderators, and with radio, it feels easier to interject, deflect, and pivot.

Maybe that’s just a feeling, but it’s how I feel.

Oh, and one last thing. Do me a favor: Don’t share this article or tell anyone. I don’t want the TV guys to know I’ve got the jump on them.

Thanks.

Brian Shactman
Brian Shactman
Brian Shactman is a weekly columnist for Barrett News Radio. In addition to writing for BNM, Brian can be heard weekday mornings in Hartford, CT on 1080 WTIC hosting the popular morning program 'Brian & Company'. During his career, Brian has worked for ESPN, CNBC, MSNBC, and local TV channels in Connecticut and Massachusetts. You can find him on Twitter @bshactman.

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