Inside the Presidential Debates: Their Improbable Past and Promising Future

Inside the Presidential Debates: Their Improbable Past and Promising Future

by Newton N. Minow, Craig L. LaMay
     
 

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Newton Minow’s long engagement with the world of television began nearly fifty years ago when President Kennedy appointed him chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. As its head, Minow would famously dub TV a “vast wasteland,” thus inaugurating a career dedicated to reforming television to better serve the public interest. Since then, he… See more details below

Overview

Newton Minow’s long engagement with the world of television began nearly fifty years ago when President Kennedy appointed him chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. As its head, Minow would famously dub TV a “vast wasteland,” thus inaugurating a career dedicated to reforming television to better serve the public interest. Since then, he has been chairman of PBS and on the board of CBS and elsewhere, but his most lasting contribution remains his leadership on televised presidential debates. He was assistant counsel to Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson when Stevenson first proposed the idea of the debates in 1960; he served as cochair of the presidential debates in 1976 and 1980; and he helped create and is currently vice chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has organized the debates for the last two decades.   Written with longtime collaborator Craig LaMay, this fascinating history offers readers for the first time a genuinely inside look into the origins of the presidential debates and the many battles—both legal and personal—that have determined who has been allowed to debate and under what circumstances. The authors do not dismiss the criticism of the presidential debates in recent years but do come down solidly in favor of them, arguing that they are one of the great accomplishments of modern American electoral politics. As they remind us, the debates were once unique in the democratic world, are now emulated across the globe, and they offer the public the only real chance to see the candidates speak in direct response to one another in a discussion of major social, economic, and foreign policy issues.   Looking to the challenges posed by third-party candidates and the emergence of new media such as YouTube, Minow and LaMay ultimately make recommendations for the future, calling for the debates to become less formal, with candidates allowed to question each other and citizens allowed to question candidates directly. They also explore the many ways in which the Internet might serve to broaden the debates’ appeal and informative power. Whether it’s Clinton or Obama vs. McCain, Inside the Presidential Debates will be welcomed in 2008 by anyone interested in where this crucial part of our democracy is headed—and how it got there.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Former FCC chairman Minow and Northwestern journalism professor LaMay (Abandoned in the Wasteland) continue their collaboration with a book that is part history, part memoir, part advocacy and part apologia. Minow, an early organizer of the televised debates and the current vice chairman of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, is the debates' greatest champion and most clear-eyed critic. Minow and LaMay readily admit to the debates' imperfections: the frequent omissions of third-party candidates and inquiries from the public. The authors suggest that in order for the debates to be more useful for voters, candidates must be more spontaneous, present fewer canned speeches and be open to answering questions from the audience (as in the YouTube debates) and from each other. Furthermore, the authors urge radio and television broadcasters to provide affordable public-service time to presidential candidates and that information be made available on the Internet to supplement comments during the debates. Although the book suffers from its lack of chronology and needless reiteration, Minow's perspectives are peerless, and the timeliness and importance of the topic make for worthwhile reading. (Apr.)

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Library Journal

The first presidential candidates' debate was between governors Thomas Dewey and Harold Stassen before the 1948 Oregon GOP primary. Sixty years later, there have been 41 primary debates (through January 2008) with more to come. No one is more qualified to write their history than Minow (Annenberg Professor, emeritus, Northwestern Univ.; Equal Time), who, as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission under John F. Kennedy, called TV a "vast wasteland" and has been a key part of the presidential debates for decades, lately as vice chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). With colleague LaMay (journalism, Northwestern Univ.; coauthor with Minow, Abandoned in the Wasteland), he tells an important story well and briefly, examining the history of the debates, the legal issues with federal "equal time" requirements for politicians, finding venues, coordinating with the candidates, and, most controversially, who is included. The criticism that the CPD, which has been chaired by the ex-chairmen of the Republican and Democratic parties, is really an adjunct of those parties and wrongly excludes minor candidates, is addressed-but the defense of the system is not convincing. Nonetheless, this scholarly study is a necessary addition to academic political science collections and useful in all public libraries.
—Michael O. Eshleman

Choice
"An insightful look at America's televised presidential debates. The authors present the story in a book destined to become a classic. . . . A delight to read; rarely does one encounter scholarly exploration expressed in prose lucid, enlightened, and laced with wit."
Walter Cronkite
“An utterly fascinating and timely glimpse into how the presidential debates were created, how they have evolved through the years, and the indispensable role they continue to play in our democracy. Minow and LaMay’s book is a gem.”

Jonathan Alter
“Newton Minow is the father of televised presidential debates, the most important new political institution of the last half century. From his memo to Adlai Stevenson first suggesting the idea in 1955 to his sensible proposals for new formats in 2008, he has stood at the center of the ‘debate over debates,’ casting a cool eye on the medium and on the democratic process he has done so much to shape. This book tells that compelling story with wit, verve, and penetrating insight.”

Walter Isaacson
“Newton Minow and Craig LaMay provide a fascinating look at the development of televised presidential debates and provide insightful suggestions on how to improve them. They’re the perfect persons to guide our thinking on this important topic, plus they’ve made the issues fun to read about.”

Judy Woodruff
“There may be no one alive who cares more about America’s democracy than Newton Minow, who was there at the creation of the modern political debate. The riveting first-person stories he and Craig LaMay tell of debates in one election after another take us to the heart of American political life and argue for a continued central role for debates in our electoral process. Their book is must reading for anyone who wants to understand how to ensure that comes about.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780226530390
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
09/15/2008
Series:
Prehistoric Archeology and Ecology series Series
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
240
File size:
1 MB

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