Al Jazeera Blogs


Americas

Covering the US presidential debates

In a media event followed by millions the world over, the challenge is to keep a fresh and original perspective.
Last modified: 2 Oct 2012 19:17
Preparations continue for the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver [AFP]

I'm on the way to Denver and I have two thoughts on my mind.

First, I'm thinking that I shouldn't have laughed at the woman behind the counter who said I could pay $67 for "economy plus". She explained it was five more inches of leg room.

That seemed like a silly waste of money; until I got on board and now I am beginning to suspect United Airlines has launched secret and sinister campaign against tall people.

My discomfort will be over in a little less than four hours, but for our two presidential candidates, this is the start of the long gruelling final sprint to election day.

The more important conversation in my head at the moment is what I'm going to say while reporting on the first presidential debate later this week.

Over and over I keep telling myself to try to be different. I'm not suggesting I will be donning a crown or clown nose during my live shots, but editorially to avoid the "group thinking" that is so common at these things.

Media game

I say this because I've been watching domestic media. All of these commentators and journalists have been talking about the "expectations game" in Washington.

They say it with scoffs and smirks as if to say: "This is just a game that the campaigns play. It's obvious, make your opponent seem like Lincoln and Douglas have returned from the grave, and if he doesn't reach that lofty height, you win by default."

I can't help but wonder that if these people on TV know it's a game, then WHY ARE THEY PLAYING IT?

So much of what people will talk about is who won and who lost? Who had the best line of the night? How did Candidate A or B look, sound, or smile?

The observations will be endless and likely meaningless in the long run.

The "oh no" gaffes, the great one-liners, the moments of laughter will be remembered. If they are really good, the video tape will be brought back every four years or so about this time and replayed.

I just wrote a story about the famous fumbles of debates. "I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy."

That is my favorite one from Lloyd Bentsen to Dan Quayle who bragged he had the same amount of time in the Senate as President Kennedy. I'm not saying it's not fun to remember when things went really right, or really wrong for a candidate; my argument is it isn't the whole story and shouldn't be.

Serious problems

This is a country that has some very big problems, and complicated choices to make in the near future. The national debt is past $16 trillion; Afghanistan is still a war and a US ally seems to be pushing for another one.

The middle class has lost its optimism. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found the 51 per cent of adults in this country that make up the middle class are often making less money than they did four years ago.

Perhaps more importantly, 41 per cent are somewhat or very pessimistic about the country's long-term economic future.

Oh and there is that pesky issue of the social safety net: It's fraying. The programmes that give money and healthcare to the elderly and very poor with children are going broke.

So, there are serious issues in this campaign and they deserve detailed answers from the candidates. I have heard the slogans and seen more than enough video of the President walking in slow motion, or Mitt Romney staring earnestly into the cameras during the always-present campaign commercials.

What I have not seen is either of them providing specific answers – details - or any kind of comprehensive plan.

I'm hoping the debate hosts – all seasoned journalists – will ask tough questions. More importantly, I hope they follow up and challenge evasive answers.

I hope that would be what the media and country focuses on. I'm not counting on it, though, which is why right now I'm thinking about how to be different, that and how to get the feeling back in my feet.