Magazine article The American Conservative

Presidential Jeopardy

Magazine article The American Conservative

Presidential Jeopardy

Article excerpt

Oprah is gone, but Americans in search of vapid chat have something new to watch, courtesy of CNN--presidential debates hosted by John King. The first New Hampshire Republican debate, featuring six men and one woman standing at podiums in front of a brightly colored made-for-TV background, typically allowed candidates only a few seconds to respond to their rivals. Viewers half expected King to excitedly intone, "This is Jeopardy!" But there was something real in jeopardy at the Granite State event: the entire enterprise of nationally televised debates.

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As the Financial Times wrote, the "format discouraged interaction, and the encounter was less a debate than a chat show with podiums." From their debut in 1960, when Kennedy defeated Nixon in a televised spectacle, the debates have always drawn critics. As former Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin contended, they reduce "great national issues to trivial dimensions ... they might have been called the $400,000 question (Prize: a $100,000-a-year job for four years). ... Far more interest was shown in the [Nixon-Kennedy] performance than in what was said. …

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