Media Matters For America put forward a postulation today in their piece Change the Debate: How Gaffes, Games, & Gotchas Dominated the 2008 Presidential Primary Debates.

Their facts supporting their assumption includes the following list, based on their analysis of the primary debates:

Out of a total of 2,300 questions asked in 31 debates,

    • Only six touched on the growing crisis in the mortgage industry.

    • Only three mentioned the minimum wage.

    • Only two touched on the issue of declining wages.

Media Matters' Change The Debate ReportOther critical issues were likewise given short shrift. There were 61 questions about abortion – half as much as all other health care questions combined. There were dozens of questions about oil prices, but only three questions about conservation and renewable energy. There was only one question about warrantless wiretapping, and only two questions about the prison at Guantanamo. And there was not a single question about the administration’s unprecedented use of signing statements, its dramatic claims of executive privilege, or its extraordinary secrecy.

Republicans and Democrats were equally subject to the parade of silliness. When not being forced to name their favorite Bible verse or take sides between the Red Sox and the Yankees, candidates were asked to comment on polls or political strategy. While some candidates got more substantive questions than others, almost all the candidates who were near the top of the polls found themselves answering mostly trivial questions.

Media Matters‘ full report is here. Their video showing some examples of the less than substantive questions in the primary debates is here:

They have an online petition drive button on their Change The Debate webpage — I’m not sure how much an online petition will actually have much of a potential to influence the moderators’ questions, and that’s because it’s hard to verify the veracity of online petition signatories. I would think an email campaign that was somehow pointed more directly at the presidential debate moderators would have had the potential to be more effective.

Even with that said, I find it the postulation put forward by Media Matters to be pretty important, and using any mechanism to address the issue of trivial debate questions seems pretty important. American people (like me) deserve at least the potential for a significantly substantive debate about issues and proposed policies that will matter beyond what’s in today’s news cycle.

Autumn Sandeen

Autumn Sandeen