The New York Times misses the CNN/YouTube debate

"Novices" can't get better answers from politicians than "journalists," the paper says. Which debate did they watch?

By Joan Walsh
July 25, 2007 4:30PM (UTC)
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It's hard to jump back in after such an eventful week, but I may as well start with the CNN/YouTube debate. I loved it. The questions were great, the personal format for asking them awesome -- a father with a son in Iraq asking a tough question about the war, a lesbian couple querying the group about gay marriage, a woman with breast cancer bringing in a pointed question about health insurance, a black man asking about reparations for African-Americans. And I thought the candidates were exceptionally good (although Mike Gravel's angry old man act is not wearing well). I liked Joe Biden going after the guy with the assault rifle, most of the candidates agreeing to work for the minimum wage (can't wait to see that), Hillary Clinton vs. John Edwards on who's the best advocate for women (and I agree with Clinton that the real news is two candidates fighting over that label). Plus, they even made news that's still being debated today, with Barack Obama pledging to meet with our enemies while Clinton kept a "presidential" distance from them, and the variety of opinion about what to do in Iraq (well charted by Walter Shapiro here).

So I was surprised to see the New York Times front its debate coverage on Page 1 (actual stories on Page 18) with this cynical take: "Most of the questions posed were more memorable than the answers, which proves that novices can ask good questions, but not necessarily elicit better answers than journalists." Got that, novices? Journalists have nothing to be afraid of! In fact, I'd argue that the tough personal and political questions elicited much better answers than those posed by journalists in earlier debates. But that's debatable. What's clear is that Times editors rarely miss an opportunity to show their fear of new media and to reassure themselves the world will always need "journalists" to get the truth.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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