Op-Ed: While Claiming Democracy Dies in Darkness, WaPo Says Something Else About Presidential Debates


Below the nameplate on the front page of The Washington Post is a slogan that defines just how hypocritical the mainstream media has become.

“Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

The self-righteous phrase espouses the importance of a free press, complete with unbridled access to politicians, all in the name of keeping the citizenry informed by holding government officials accountable (although one can argue that’s a job for voters, not the media).

In other words, “Democracy Dies in Darkness” affirms the importance of transparency in government.

I don’t think anyone would argue that government should be open and forthright. Everything from campaigns and elections to votes in the House and Senate should be an open book for the media and the public.

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After all, who likes secrets?

Well, it turns out the very newspaper that uses a slogan to label itself as the purveyors of government accountability is one of several media outlets clamoring to do away with one of the most transparent parts of the presidential campaign.

While the Post routinely reminds its readers that “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” it is one of several mainstream media outlets that want to turn off the lights on presidential debates.

Since 1858, when Abraham Lincoln debated Stephen A. Douglas for a U.S. Senate seat in Illinois, the importance of political candidates laying out their case in front of voters has been paramount in any campaign. Aside from informing voters, some debates have been historic and downright insightful.

Should Trump and Biden have public debates this election season?

Since 1976, presidential debates have been held every four years, beginning with Jimmy Carter taking on Gerald Ford.

But now, all of a sudden, just as President Donald Trump is licking his chops for a debate while Democrat Joe Biden continues to blunder through staged interviews from his basement, the mainstream media is telling us that such events aren’t really that important. In fact, maybe we’d be better off without any debates, they say.

In a June 25 opinion piece, Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty opined that it’s time to rethink the debates. She doesn’t really say why, instead criticizing Trump for wanting to add a fourth debate in advance of the November election and claiming it would be best to do away with live audiences.

To the former point, Tumulty suggested that Trump’s desire for a fourth debate isn’t a serious proposal because scheduling such an event this late in the campaign season would be logistically impossible.

To add another debate, she said, would require finding a date that isn’t on a Friday or Saturday, doesn’t conflict with sports or other television network events, and won’t interfere with official presidential business.

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To make matters worse, Tumulty pointed out that each debate requires candidates to suspend public appearances for a few days so they can prepare.

That shouldn’t be a problem for the basement-bound Biden. His schedule seems pretty open.

In all fairness, The Washington Post isn’t the only media outlet trying to downplay the importance, or the necessity, of presidential debates.

And the timing is uncanny.

As Biden continued to produce gaffes, and as questions mounted about his mental fitness this summer, the media effort to cancel debates peaked.

On Aug. 3, The New York Times ran an op-ed by journalist Elizabeth Drew with the novel idea, “Let’s Scrap the Presidential Debates.”

Mind you, Drew said her great idea has nothing to do with any concern about Biden’s ability to withstand going toe-to-toe with Trump. Instead, Drew said debates have been rendered meaningless and without substance thanks to “snappy comebacks and one-liners.”

Is she referring to Trump’s “you’d be in jail” remark to Hillary Clinton during the second presidential debate in 2016? I must admit, that was a snappy comeback.

Personally, I like when candidates use comebacks and one-liners in a debate. It shows they can think on their feet and act decisively. Those are important qualities for a president, and voters don’t get to see that side of a candidate when a campaign is nothing but scripted speeches. Debates bring out the raw character of a candidate, and voters need to see it.

Drew further argues against the merits of debates involving Trump because the events “became simply another tool in his arsenal.”

In other words, Trump is good at it, so let’s take it away.

Other media outlets recently have piled on the anti-debate train, including CNN political analyst Joe Lockhart, a former Clinton White House press secretary, who clearly stated that Biden shouldn’t debate Trump, period.

The reason for Lockhart’s matter-of-fact stance is the debate stage gives Trump a platform to continually spout lies.

As a result, Lockhart said, “Biden will be in the position of correcting him over and over again. I don’t think he should give him that platform.”

What Lockhart is really saying is that the American voters shouldn’t have access to a platform that gives them an unfiltered look at the two people running for the most powerful job in the world. Why? Because Biden would be forced to spend all of his time correcting Trump’s lies, and it just wouldn’t be fair.

In reality, Lockhart’s argument against a Trump-Biden debate amounts to nothing more than a weak excuse.

So while some in the mainstream media are busy telling us that all of a sudden, there’s no need for presidential debates in 2020, their message isn’t echoed by everyone.

According to the Young African Leaders Initiative, which was created by President Barack Obama in 2010, debates “help voters make informed choices and encourage candidates to focus on policy issues, a conviction so widely held that these candidate showdowns have become mainstays of the electoral process in many places.”

Hmmm. “Help voters make informed choices.”

That’s the debate benefit that mainstream media outlets are trying to take away, but not because they’re concerned about comebacks, one-liners, lies or scheduling conflicts.

The real reason the mainstream media wants to drastically change or eliminate debates this year has nothing to do with the integrity of the process.

They’re worried that Biden will get trounced by Trump on stage.

And if the media opts to protect their candidate while throwing transparency to the wayside, it’s a dark time for democracy.

The views expressed in this opinion article are those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website. If you are interested in contributing an Op-Ed to The Western Journal, you can learn about our submission guidelines and process here.

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Tom Venesky is an award-winning freelance writer based in Pennsylvania. He has 20 years of experience as a reporter and columnist for daily newspapers, and his work has appeared in more than 50 publications nationwide.
Tom Venesky is an award-winning freelance writer based in Pennsylvania. He has 20 years of experience as a reporter and columnist for daily newspapers, and his work has appeared in more than 50 publications nationwide.