When people talk over each other, neither can be heard. But the fault that neither side was heard last night lies not with Donald Trump. That was his well-rehearsed strategy. Rather it lies with Chris Wallace. What he should have done was give Trump fair warning, and when Trump did it again, Wallace should have ended the debate right then and there. Fox may have fired him the next morning, but he’d have been offered a job at CNN or MSNBC within the hour. So the problem with these journalists-in-name-only (JINO’s) isn’t cowardice. It’s that they’re not really journalists at all.

To be fair, Wallace is the least JINO-esque of the JINO’s. JINO’s think they’ve done their job if they ask the question. It falls to the interviewee if, instead of answering it, he pivots to his stump speech. The real journalist, by contrast, just keeps repeating the question until the politician either answers it or makes explicit that he’s declining to do so. So not surprisingly, real journalists don’t get any takers, so as a consequence they find alternative employment. That’s why there are no real journalists working at CNN or MSNBC or Fox.

I’m teaching a seminar right now on collective action problems. I suspect there are JINO’s who’d prefer to be real journalists, but they’re faced with a collective action problem. If every journalist decided to be a real journalist instead of a JINO, politicians could either no longer agree to be interviewed or no longer pivot. We’d all be the better off for it. But all it takes is one would-be real journalist to defect, and we’d be back to where we started. So real journalism doesn’t just take balls. In fact it doesn’t take balls at all. It takes a coordinated effort, the kind of coordinated effort of which Americans, in so many walks of life, seem incapable.

Categories: Editorials

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3 replies

  1. Wallace really wasn’t in a position to discipline Trump’s behavior. But I think the network has got the message that the audience did not like what happened & that they will have to set some rules for tbe next debate & make it clear to everyone that they will enforce tbem….probably by turning off the offender’s mike.

    At a deeper level, I think the encounter underlined how deeply divided the electorate is, because it will vote for their man no matter how inadequate he is…..& Trump understands this better than Biden.

    The Republican Establishment can’t stand Trump & his semi articulate populism, but he is a winner. And the Democrats realize that at least half of America hates an Obama/Clinton lookalike as much as it fears a Bernie Sanders.

    The situation is hopeless. The political class has lost control of the process. And neither side is going to accept the victory of the other.

    American politics is becoming a devil’s playground. And the lesson for eveyone else watching this debacle is to quickly move to reinforce their centre by the right taking on board the environment crisis, & the left reigning in the more radical woke sex & race agendas.

    Whether that happens or not will depend on how disastrous & certifiably nuts the present descent into civil war in the US turns out to be.


  2. Re: “When people talk over each other, neither can be heard.”

    Scroll down the page of the following link to view a satirical debate by Bill Goodykoontz , a film and media critic, called Crossscreech:


  3. I could only stomach about 15 minutes of the debate but I feel I have to play literal devil’s advocate here. I honestly think the way the debate has been characterized here, and by others, is unfair to Trump (insert the obligatory, I’m not a Trump supporter message here as I’m just annoyed by the lack of fairness and the attitude of the democrats).

    Check the transcript or re-watch it for yourself: Biden was the first to interrupt during Trump’s agreed upon 2 minute section. When this happened, Wallace decided to change to open discussion format and gave the opportunity to talk back to Biden — Trump never got his time back. Later in the debate, Wallace attempted to once again enforce the two minute format against Trump by not allowing him to rebut what Biden said.

    Trump indeed interrupted Wallace asking a question, but the question was highly leading asserting that Trump had given no plan for healthcare, ignoring the AHCA (aka Trump Care) or Trump’s reasonable response that the only thing he’s looking to change is the individual mandate (which is a big change from the right’s past characterization of the problem).

    So I agree that Wallace is to blame, but not because of his soft hand or inability to reign in Trump but because of his inability to maintain basic fairness and put his own biases aside when enforcing the debate rules.

    I’d also point out neither side was very respectful of the either and they both talked over each other, called their opponents names and quoted highly misleading facts. Biden can often be heard openly laughing at what Trump says (why they didn’t turn off their mics while the other is speaking is a giant mystery to me).

    In summary, all I can say is I’m glad I’m not American and don’t have to choose between such horrible candidates.


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