I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I believe man landed on the moon, not on a movie set someplace. In that spirit, I believe the Republican candidates for Senate debated Wednesday night.
But I cannot believe an outfit that (incessantly) calls itself "Idaho's news channel," and a bunch of their media sponsors, would actually hold a debate — and tell the public to take a hike. Click here for the story.
How ludicrous can you get?
Don't we all think transparency is not merely an ideal — but the oxygen that gives health to the public process? Don't we all believe elected officials and candidates for public office should be open-book accountable? Don't we believe that it's part of our job to inform and engage the electorate?
So when members of the general public and reporters showed up at Northwest Nazarene University to watch the debate for themselves, organizers turned away anyone who wasn't on a list. I thought this was a political debate, not Studio 54 circa 1978.
And this wasn't just some Statesman-vs.-KTVB grudge either — as KTVB and its partners also turned away an Associated Press reporter. Last I checked, KTVB and a number of its debate partners actually subscribe to the AP.
I've said this before, and I'll say it again. Taped debates are a bad idea. They give candidates time to do preemptive spinning before the public can judge the give-and-take for themselves. This is an advantage for the better-organized, better-funded candidate — in this case, Lt. Gov. Jim Risch.
Keeping the public out of the debate makes a bad system even worse.
The whole idea of sponsoring debates is to provide a public service to voters, or so I've thought. But when you turn a debate into a private event, and you air the debate when it suits your programming schedule, you have turned the whole process into a proprietary product.
Public service? My foot.
I am a diehard First Amendment advocate, and I believe, when it comes to ensuring openness in government, all media organizations are brothers under the flag. But with this sham of a debate, KTVB and its co-sponsors — the Idaho Business Review, the Idaho Press-Tribune, KIDO AM in Boise, KPVI TV in Pocatello, or North Idaho's KREM TV — make it that much harder for us all to make a straight-faced argument for transparency.
If you want to see a live debate, in real time, tune in to Public TV tonight at 8:30 to hear the candidates for Idaho Supreme Court: Joel Horton and John Bradbury. These debates are sponsored by Public TV, the League of Women Voters and the Idaho Press Club (of which I am vice president). Then, go to idahoptv.org after the debate to hear Jim Peck of IPTV, retired Boise State University professor Jim Weatherby, Scott Shaw of NNU and myself analyze the debate, and talk primary politics.
Tune in and log in. Everyone's on the guest list.