Roger L. Simon

Phony Town Halls and Candy Crowley's Ego

The U.S. population clock is currently showing 314,583,682 residents as of October 2012 and yet we are about to hold a “town hall” debate for our presidential candidates.

How quaint. (The first town hall meeting was held in Dorchester, Massachusetts, in 1633.)

How completely and utterly phony.

Let’s begin with how the audience–those town hallers–are chosen. According to Gallup, the organization that selects them, they are “uncommitted” voters. But how do we know that is true? And to what degree are they really uncommitted? What finally does “uncommitted”–the term used by Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport on this video–mean anyway? How “uncommitted”? Are they leaning in one direction or another? Are they just people anxious to get on television for their Warhol minutes?

In any case this will be a Gallup-selected group of “eighty plus people” (again Newport’s words) who will be sitting in for three hundred plus million Americans. That’s some winnowing down. How exactly did that get done?

And then we have the matter of their questions. Gallup, in conjunction with moderator Candy Crowley of CNN, will apparently be vetting and making the decisions. In fact, Crowley, who seems to be taking a fair amount of power for herself in the enterprise, has informed us that she “does not intend to be a fly on the wall.”

Why not? Crowley is a decent enough journalist, but who elected her king in this enterprise? As Drudge reminds us, not long ago she pronounced the Romney/Ryan ticket a “death wish.”

Let’s put it bluntly. The role of the media in these debates is reprehensible and essentially anti-democratic. In other words, who needs them? Why are they there?

For titanic figures likes Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, the media were irrelevant. They were willing to face each other mano-a-mano on the issues of their day and let the better man win. Why not Obama and Romney? What do they have to fear? The public would only benefit.

I suspect Jim Lehrer understood this, at least to some degree, when he eased back on his moderation of the first debate. He did not want to make himself the story. Crowley would be well-served to pay attention to that and act similarly, although the bogus town hall format may make that more difficult.

And the Republican Party would be well-served to man or woman up and confront the idea of the media dominating events in future elections. It’s unlikely the Democrats are going to do it, so they are going to have to. As for the media, they should restrict their attendance to the Spin Room. That’s all they give us anyway.

Let the debates be Lincoln-Douglas style. It would do a lot for forensics.