Town Hall – Minus the Town

Liz Cox Barrett writes on the Columbia Journalism Review website (10/7/08) of the corporate media version of public participation:

The rules for [Tuesday]’s “town hall-style” debate, agreed to by both campaigns “as part of a 31-page memorandum of understanding that leaked out this week,” a “document that is not made public, even by the Commission on Presidential Debates, clouding the transparency of this most important of public events” (this, the same Commission with the stated mission “to provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners”):

– The in-studio questioner must not deviate from his or her question and cannot ask a follow-up question. Their microphones will be turned off after they ask their questions.

– The moderator cannot ask a follow-up.

– The camera cannot show the reaction of the questioner.

Why would Tom Brokaw show up to “moderate” this event? Why would (and does) any journalist? There is next-to-nothing journalistic about it.

Barrett notes that “Brokaw, of all people, does not have to play along,” even proposing that “if he wanted to, he could conduct this debate on his own terms and his reputation wouldn’t suffer (if anything, it might be enhanced).” Instead, he stuck to the rules, deviating only to ask his own proudly misinformed question about Social Security.