Demise of television debates

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Demise of television debates

LIM JONG-JU
The author is the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.


Now the first thing you’ll notice in Cleveland, Ohio are shabby roads and empty buildings, but in the early 20th century, it was the sixth-largest city in the United States. The nickname “Sixth City” is reminiscent of the city’s past glory.

The state of Ohio is called the “mother of U.S. presidents,” as seven were born there, including the 18th President Ulysses S. Grant. William Harrison, the ninth president of the United States, spent most of his adult life in Ohio. Nearly one in five presidents are from Ohio.

In 2012, former president Barack Obama kicked off his re-election campaign in Ohio. “Ohio, four years ago, you and I began a journey together.” That year, the majority of votes were cast for Obama, once again proving that sentiment in Ohio is a crucial indicator.

Earlier in February, former New York City Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg set up an election camp in Ohio to run against millionaire President Donald Trump. Bloomberg ambitiously hoped to take the lead on Super Tuesday in March, when 14 primaries were held, vying to emerge to run against Trump in Ohio.

But his hope faltered before he arrived at Ohio. In the Democratic television debate held eight days after he launched the campaign in Ohio, he received poor scores. Bloomberg had been closely chasing former Vice President Joe Biden, but he received 2.9 out of 10 points. He underestimated the importance of television debates.

The landmark event of television debates was between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon in 1960. Alan Schroeder said, “The 1960 debates are the turning point from retail politics to the politics of mass media.” Robert Gilbert said, “Since the age of television, presidents have become like movie stars.” And the heyday of television debates arrived.

After 60 years have passed, another series of television debates began in Cleveland, Ohio. But things were rough from the beginning. Trump interrupted the debate 71 times — Biden 22 times — and they made personal attacks. Debate rules are to be changed, and the impact is not as powerful. A CNBC poll shows that only 2 percent of voters changed the candidate they would vote for after watching the debate. Ohio was disgraced again.

It is unclear if the second and third rounds, scheduled for Oct. 15 and 22, respectively, will be held. President Trump has tested positive for the coronavirus. The perfect storm of internal and external shocks has hit television debates. Who would benefit or lose by faltered television debates? More homework is needed with only four weeks left till the election.

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