[FOUNTAIN]Vote with your sixth sense

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[FOUNTAIN]Vote with your sixth sense

Eighteen months ago as the United States presidential campaign was reaching its height the camp of the Republican candidate George W. Bush was struggling to decide on the most effective format for a television debate. They finally agreed on a one-on-one format for the first debate and an appearance on CNN's Larry King Live and a political talk show on NBC for the second and third debates. But advisers said this strategy might suggest Bush was afraid of TV debates.

In the end, the two candidates agreed on three debates that would be conducted differently each time. During the first debate both would stand on a platform while during the second and third the two candidates would sit. The audience would be allowed to take part in the last one. To the relief of the Bush camp, the result was a draw.

A classic example in which a TV debate determined the outcome of an election is the series of four TV debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon held in September and October 1960. Seventy million people watched the debates, and 57 percent of those viewers based their vote on the debates. The much younger Kennedy had the advantage. One interesting fact is that people who listened to the debates on the radio favored Mr. Nixon.

After his entry into the White House, Mr. Kennedy made it a rule to have several press conferences a week and allowed TV cameras to be brought in. Nevertheless, according to Pierre Salinger, then-Kennedy press secretary, even Mr. Kennedy, who had capitalized on TV, tried to limit his appearances as much as possible. He was trying to imitate President Roosevelt who limited his popular "fireside chat" radio appearance to one or two times a year, maximizing the scarcity value.

After the Kennedy vs. Nixon showdowns, America's political debates on TV disappeared for 16 years. During the 1964 campaign, Lyndon Johnson avoided televised debates; in 1968 and 1972, Mr. Nixon did not want to repeat his nightmare. The TV debate format found its way back into the studio during the 1976 election when the incumbent Gerald Ford matched up against Jimmy Carter. Mr. Ford shot himself in the foot by making several mistakes, such as saying that Eastern Europe was free from Soviet domination.

Starting today, the presidential candidates from the ruling party will debate on TV. Their words will influence the opinions of viewers. Voters should be wise enough to choose a leader without being swayed by words or facades. We must use the sixth sense to select the right person.

The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun

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