Why do journalists moderate debates?

Most mainstream TV journalists are nice to look at and can speak without stumbling over their words, but why are these sufficient qualifications?  Consider these problems:

  • Journalists, as many studies show, are vastly to the political left of the distribution of US voters (probably even to the left of Democrats)
  • Journalists, as a group, have no particular expertise on public policy issues (certainly, the universities and think tanks in the country could produce enough well-spoken policy experts to do the job).
  • Journalists have no experience as either elected or appointed officials in government.
  • Successful journalists have some smart people among their numbers, but the smartest are typically not the pretty boys and girls that read off monitors for a living and host debates.

Even more of a puzzle is why Republicans let leftist journalists host GOP debates.  How do they gain by letting these people try to make them look bad?  If they want a journalist, why not pick, say, a Jonah Goldberg (who would be awesome), even if he isn’t as pretty as Brian Williams or Anderson Cooper?

Is it that they worry that they couldn’t get networks to cover their debates?  Given that anyone who would be watching a debate more than a year before the election is going to be very much a person very interested in politics who would be just as happy to watch it on C-Span or the Discovery channel as any major network.

Perhaps the candidates think that any amount of free air time will help their name recognition with the broader electorate.  But the GOP debates so far would be very unlikely to appeal to the independent voters that the candidates need to attract to win a general election (they aren’t paying attention, and if they were, they’d just get spooked off by the extremism).

The “Let him die” fiasco of the last week (more on that later, maybe) just illustrates how the GOP isn’t serving their interests.  Far better—for citizens—to get an intelligent, articulate conservative to host these debates.

Of course this is assuming that the candidates would want to go head-to-head with an intelligent conservative.  Can you imagine, for instance, an extended Bill Buckley-Rick Perry exchange?  Makes me shudder with glee and wish I had finished building that time machine.

I sense, however, that going up against a brilliant interlocutor in a debate, one who knows the ins and outs of different strains of conservative/libertarian political thought and takes those ideas seriously, is the last person that a typical candidate would want asking them questions.  There are a few potential candidates who would welcome such an opportunity.  But they are the ones not running.

That fact, sadly, is what makes following politics so dispiriting.


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