McCall on the Debates


In the age of 24-hour news channels, Professor of Communication Jeff McCall thinks presidential debates shouldn’t air on television.
“Debates put too much emphasis on a few isolated events,” McCall said, who most recently voiced his opinion on the debates publicly in a column of the Sept. 27 Indianapolis Star. “It’s even worse they’re on television.”
All three of the debates aired on national news stations: CBS, ABC and NBC, as well as cable news channels like CNN and Fox News. McCall said television placed too much emphasis on body language and mannerisms.
“If we wanted to elect the best debater – the debater in chief – we should televise the debates,” McCall said.
McCall believes people should gather their information from a variety of media outlets, and ones on both sides. Partisan news channels spin their coverage of candidates to their liking – conservative channels back Romney, and liberal ones Obama.
“People are prone to information segregation,” McCall said. “They get information from sources with their ideology.”
Providing candidates with a national audience gives candidates increased or decreased support. CNN provided a seismograph-looking box in the lower left hand of the screen during the third debate polling independent voters in Florida on each word the candidates said.
“Even a well done poll can’t account for a one point swing,” McCall said.
In a tightly contested election, polls and debates could help or hurt the candidates.
Polls come out daily tracking how each candidate is doing. Depending on the poll, a different answer with different numbers is given. McCall said viewership of late night talk shows sways voters voting for one candidate or another.
“Journalists make a big deal on a small movement in the polls,” McCall said. “Polls by their nature are not exact, but it can cause bandwagon support for the leader.”
People polled are affected by what the candidates said in the debates, and how the post-debate media coverage portrays each candidate. McCall calls the constant insistence on polls “horse race” coverage.
“It gives people a false sense of what the news is,” McCall said. “It fills the news hole.”
Polls themselves cause debating strategy to change in the respective camps. After Obama’s disinterested first debate, Democrats prompted Joe Biden to come out more aggressive in the vice-presidential debate to make up ground in the polls Romney won based on his performance.
“Ultimately the polls aren’t making the decision,” McCall said.
The people who are making the decision are people like Junior Mark Jaskowiak. Jaskowiak, who watched the first and second debate, said that just watching the debates is not the best way to get all information about a candidate.
“There’s a certain amount of loss of information just relying on the debate.  It’s more of who appears better and how they can appeal to an audience,” Jaskowiak said.  “Most of their descriptions are vague, like Romney’s five-point plan.”
He added: “The debates have a mass exposure, huge audience.  But it’s hard to tell what their policies are and what statements are factual.”