News Release

The “Fraud” of Bipartisan Debates


JEFF COHEN, jcohen[at], @Roots_Action
Cohen is co-founder of the online activism group, which just launched a petition to open up the presidential debates to include four candidates. Cohen also founded the media watch group FAIR in 1986.

He just wrote the piece “TV Networks Should Open Up the Presidential Debates,” which states: “If ten major TV networks got together and decided to nationally televise a presidential debate restricted to Republican nominee Donald Trump and right-leaning Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, while barring other candidates including Democrat Hillary Clinton, it would be recognized as an act of media bias or exclusion.

“But what if the televised debates this fall are restricted to just Trump and Clinton? That, too, needs to be recognized as an intentional act of media exclusion. …

“Beginning in 1988, major TV networks granted journalistic control over the debates to a private organization with no official status: the Commission on Presidential Debates. The CPD is often called ‘nonpartisan.’ That’s absurdly inaccurate. ‘Bipartisan’ is the right adjective, as it has always carried out the joint will of the Republican and Democratic parties. (See George Farah’s meticulously reported book, No Debate.)

“The commission grew out of a deal cut in the 1980s by GOP and Democratic leaders. Today, even though the U.S. public largely distrusts the presidential candidates of the two major parties, TV networks seem willing to allow them to again dictate the terms of debate, including who gets to participate.”

Cohen gives a brief history of how the heads of the Democratic and Republican parties wrestled control of the presidential debates from the League of Women Voters, which had been independently organizing presidential debates; Cohen notes: “In 1988, with the CPD taking control of the debates on behalf of the two major parties, the League of Women Voters announced its withdrawal from any debate sponsorship ‘because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter. It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.'” Cohen is currently director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College.

PETE TUCKER, Pete[at], @thefightback
Tucker is an independent D.C.-based journalist who writes at He has recently written a series of pieces on presidential debates, including “How Presidential Debates Became ‘a Fraud on the American Voter ” and “How Third Parties Are Kept Out Of Presidential Debates“.