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Politics, Entertainment and the ABC Debate Debacle

April 17, 2008

Media critics and the liberal blogosphere alike are apoplectic about Thursday night's abominable ABC Democratic debate in Philadelphia. But lost in the outcry over what the Washington Post deemed a "shoddy" and "despicable" performance by moderators George Stephanopolous and Charles Gibson is a snapshot of the future of American politics. When politics is just another form of entertainment, the ABC debacle is what you get.
Back in February, I delivered a presentation titled, "That's Entertainment: Politics as Theater in Campaign '08." (A video of that talk is available, as are PDFs of the slides and speaker's notes.) As I suggested then:

Politics must now compete with an oversupply of entertainment and information sources, from television, radio, books, newspapers and magazines to web sites, blogs, online video, podcasts and more. The result is a 21st century "infotainment complex" where politics, news, opinion and entertainment merge. Politics itself is now entertainment, part drama and part competition in a passion play where confrontation, conflict and good versus evil rule the day. The journalistic search for objective truth is replaced by the presentation of ideological clashes with two - and only two - sides. The disturbing trend is a threat to American democracy itself as a well-informed citizenry devolves into what Al Gore deemed the "well amused audience."

No doubt, last night's Obama-Clinton slugfest showed the "two and only two sides" dynamic at play. Gibson and Stephanopolous ignored critical issues involving the economy, education, terrorism and more, instead trying to spark fireworks by focusing on Reverend Wright, the Weather Underground and U.S. flag lapel pins. (That Fox News' Sean Hannity succeeded in planting right-wing attack questions speaks to the devolution of the debate as a forum for political discourse.)
In the aftermath of last night's debate, Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher lamented the "shameful night for the U.S. media" which produced "perhaps the most embarrassing performance by the media in a major presidential debate in years." Sadly, ABC's affront to American voters is not the exception to the rule, but rapidly becoming the rule itself.
Welcome to the future of American politics.

One comment on “Politics, Entertainment and the ABC Debate Debacle”

  1. you are just mad because Obama and Clinton got (particularly Obama) asked a "real" question and he didn't get to talk about hope and peace love harmony shit. The media is more hardcore liberal than either one of these jokes so how are these right-wing attack questions? I'll say it again you are just mad because Obama got asked a hard question and besides the question about not wearing the American flag pin was asked by some woman on a video. Get over it you American hating Mongols.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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