Who's in charge of the debates anyway?

The Commission on Presidential Debates doesn't care what you want Jim Lehrer to ask

By Zachary Bell

Published October 3, 2012 8:05PM (EDT)

Leading up tonight's first debate, various micro-constituencies —  eco-momsAurora’s anti-gun families, even Redditors — have made it known that they want their questions answered by the candidates. But ultimately, those decisions go to Jim Lehrer and the Commission on Presidential Debates.

The CPD, which directs the political face-offs, has faced mounting criticism for everything from its opaque processes to the pasty complexions of its chosen four moderators. Meanwhile, some pundits have called for the debates to better reflect the times. Michael Sifry called for a software update, writing in the Atlantic:

Debates can and should be reinvented for the digital age, where the abundance of time and bandwith allows for a completely different approach to evaluating where the candidates stand and involving the public in the conversation. (See 10Questions.com, for starters.) Unfortunately, instead of really opening up the process to take advantage of these new affordances, it looks like the CPD has opted for a safe and narrow path that mostly consists of window-dressing.

So why is the CPD so stuck in its ways?

This morning on Democracy Now!, George Farah, author of “No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates,” laid out the commission’s history:

The Commission of Presidential Debates sounds like a government agency. It sounds like a non-partisan entity, which is by design. It’s intended to deceive the American people. But in reality, it’s a private corporation, financed primarily by Anheuser-Busch and other major companies, that was created by the Republican and Democratic Parties to seize control of the Presidential debates from the League of Women Voters in 1987.

Watch the rest of the history here:


Zachary Bell

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