News Release

Are they “Debates” or Joint Televised Appearances?

Media analyst Jeff Cohen comments: “When you see the VP candidates ignoring most questions and giving stump speeches that make the ‘debate’ look more like a ‘NATIONALLY TELEVISED JOINT APPEARANCE,’ that’s by design. Literally. It happens because nonpartisan groups and independent journalists don’t run the debates.

“Instead, the debate rules and moderators are dictated by the two major parties — operating behind the fig leaf of a ‘Debate Commission’ set up to remove control over debates from the nonpartisan League of Women Voters (which had run the presidential and VP debates in 1976, ‘80 and ‘84). In 1985, as the national chairs of the two major parties — Democrat Paul Kirk and GOPer Frank Fahrenkopf — moved to sideline the League and set up their Commission, they signed a remarkable agreement that referred to future debates as ‘nationally televised joint appearances conducted between the presidential and vice-presidential nominees of the two major political parties … It is our conclusion that future joint appearances should be principally and jointly sponsored and conducted by the Republican and Democratic Committees.’ (Joint Memorandum of Agreement on Presidential Candidate Joint Appearances, Nov. 26, 1985.)

Thus, Susan Page was inaccurate when she claimed at the beginning of the event last night that it was sponsored by the “nonpartisan” Commission on Presidential Debates. The group is a creation of the Democratic and Republican parties, and is bipartisan.

ELI BECKERMAN, eli@openthedebates.org@OpenTheDebates
Beckerman is the founder and director of Open the Debates, “a cross-partisan effort to open up and elevate the political debates of our nation.” The group states: “Three-quarters of U.S. voters agree that if you are on enough state ballots to win the Electoral College, you should be in the debates. But the corrupt Commission on Presidential Debates has squashed that principled sentiment like a bug, cycle after cycle.”

He just co-wrote the piece “The Two-Party System’s Failure Opens Door for Independent Debate,” for Independent Voter News, which notes: “This week, at least five presidential contenders will join us in Denver for another open presidential debate. With the Commission on Presidential Debates reeling from its poor stewardship of the debate process, Thursday’s cross-partisan debate is an opportunity for the nation to advance a much more meaningful political discourse — one that represents our deep yearnings for a more perfect union.”