To say that ABC News marginalized the issues in last night's debate would be an insult to margins everywhere. ABC's coverage of the Democratic Presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was beyond embarrassing, beyond shameful, beyond inane.
The first 50 minutes of the debate, moderated by Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, consisted of trivial non-policy questions, mostly aimed at Obama, concerning his use of the word "bitter" to describe the way some Americans feel; his serving on a charity board that included a former Sixties radical from something called the Weather Underground; the lack of a flag pin on Obama's lapel; and good old Reverend Wright. Clinton got tagged again with her exaggeration of sniper conditions at the Tuzla Airport in Bosnia.
Someone should have told the bespectacled Gibson that Barack Obama was seven years old when the Weather Underground was active, and that, if wearing lapel flag pins was a requirement to demonstrate one's patriotism, then the Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin and nearly every past President of the United States must not have been patriots. Oh, and the "bitter" thing? Guess what -- it's true.
The questions from Gibson and Stephanopoulos were not only superficial, they were framed right out of the right wing "culture war" playbook. Everyone knows that, in this November's election, the Republicans will once again try to paint Democrats as a bunch of lefties out of touch with mainstream America on "issues" such as the Pledge of Allegiance. But I had no idea that the Republicans had paid ABC News to run a Republican convention against the Democratic nominee nearly five months early.
What were some issues that ABC News did not cover last night? How about the issue of us losing a poorly resourced war in Afghanistan while the Taleban regroups? How about the issue of Al Qaeda sitting untouched in Pakistan? How about the economy, housing market and stock market melting down? How about our planet warming up? How about average Americans no longer being able to afford health care or college for their children? How about the revelation, broken by ABC News just a few nights ago, that, with George Bush's blessing, senior Bush Administration officials such as Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, and Colin Powell discussed torture techniques for U.S. prisoners and then lied about it when asked by Congress and the press? How about Republican presidential nominee John McCain singing about bombing Iran and saying at least three times that he knows little about the economy? Nope, those issues wouldn't be entertaining enough, and might embarrass the right wingers.
Silly me, I must have thought television news, and coverage of debates in particular, is designed to inform rather than entertain. My television set is once again turned off and so are the American people.