Diagnosis for Democracy
Insights into the State of Our Union
A Blog by Rob Tenery, MD


The 'Hunger Games' Debate

By Rob Tenery, MD on November 3, 2015

In the very popular sci-fi drama series, Hunger Games, young men and women between 12 and 18, are chosen from each of the twelve districts of the nation of Panem, and are forced to fight to the death. The contestant who lives will be crowned victor. In a bizarre way, this last Presidential debate resembles the situation in Panem.

The most recent Republican debate for President broadcast and moderated by the television network CNBC epitomizes how the media in this country has moved away from its intended purpose.  In response to the moderators’ poor performance, the Republican National Committee has severed ties with the parent company NBC. Whether that will continue through the remainder of the campaign will be decided later.

Similar to Newt Gingrich, during a Republican Primary debate four years ago, Senator Ted Cruz called the moderators to task with “The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. …This is not a cage match.” He went on, “You look at the questions: Donald Trump: Are you a comic-book villain? Ben Carson: Can you do math? John Kasich: Will you insult two people over here? Marco Rubio: Why don’t you resign? Jeb Bush: Why have your numbers fallen?”

It’s not just a liberal bias against Republicans either. Fox News commentator, Megyn Kelly, took on Donald Trump about his opinion on women. “You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs. dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.” She continued, “Your twitter account has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man that we should elect as president?”

The intention of any debate is for two opposing parties to present their differing opinions in front of an audience in order to sway its opinion. As opposed to a duel or a street fight, the process is supposed to be civil with opinions  (votes) changed rather than injury inflicted. The purpose of moderating a debate is to insure that predetermined rules are followed, and not bias interjected by the moderator.                                                                                                                                                                                           .

Unfortunately, the debate process preceding the recent Presidential elections have strayed, especially this last one moderated by CNBC. In fact, this most recent debate was not moderated but directed. Directed, at best to hurt or if not, knock each of the participants out of the race. It is widely accepted that this network is extremely liberal, but the hope was that the Republican candidates could win over some of these liberal voters if given the opportunity to get their messages out.

Endemic to the media, whether it’s television, radio, newspapers or periodicals, is a built in bias. Except for the street reporter or the back-page journalist, everyone is a pundit--- a journalist who inserts his or her own opinion into the story. With this country’s growing apathy to let others shoulder the hard work of discovery, the media has become increasingly influential, as an ever-growing part of the electorate follows passively along.

A large number of the ‘gotcha’ questions, or added inferences in this recent debate were incriminating. One of the moderators plants the seed of complicity with a question, and the candidate must respond by denial, defense or spin out of it to another subject. Even then, the implications linger. Some of the concerns brought by the moderators were to turn the sites of one candidate toward another in hopes of inflicting damage, rather than gaining enlightenment. These were the two main principles carried out in the Hunger Games--- placing the combatants in a harsh environment and determining their own survival by the deaths of the others.

The CNBC moderators’ plan appears to have backfired! They came off as incendiary, poorly informed and ill advised by their network.  What the debate did accomplish was to bring the Republican candidates together to try to workout a better format for future debates.

We have come to accept a Hunger Games approach to the debates--- one where the candidates are pawns in their own election. Orchestrated by a media that lets their audiences hear what they want them to hear, selects the candidates they want to highlight and asks the questions that they want the candidates to answer. The irony is, the media gets paid for it!





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