Political debates are descending into reality television



Will Wetzel

After I finished watching the third Republican presidential debate, hosted by CNBC, I couldn’t help but feel a sense that I had just tuned in to MTV for two hours. Like the previous two debates, the debate began with the promise of the Republican candidates discussing our current problems. Instead, America was introduced to a verbal standoff between the CNBC moderators and the Republican candidates. 

The CNBC network showed incredible bias against the Republican Party, and as far as I’m concerned, it should be ashamed of itself and forbidden from hosting any more debates. The questions that were asked were not constructive. I truly believe that the three moderators had an agenda against the candidates. But I’m not writing this piece about the mainstream media bias against the Republicans. The questions that were asked in the debates reveal a larger problem that is at stake.

I could not help asking myself: What had become of political debates? What happened to addressing real issues that plague our country today? Discussing America’s world problems are being thrown aside in favor of producing quality entertainment, which in my opinion is completely inappropriate, considering our country is in a difficult time economically and internationally.

Why do you think there have been four Republican debates as of Nov. 10 while the Democrats have only had one? The answer is television ratings. It is very simple. After the first debate, which saw a record-setting 20-25 million viewers tuning into CNN, networks saw the Republican presidential debates as a real opportunity to make inordinate sums of money. The amount of viewers watching the debates skyrocketed. In 2012, no debate even got close to the viewership numbers that these Republican debates have received.

And whether you want to hear it or not, I believe Donald Trump is the main reason why these ratings are through the roof. Whether you like him or not is completely irrelevant. What is important to note is that he is very entertaining to listen to. He has the ability to engage an audience, something that no other candidate can come close to matching. He states whatever comes to his mind and is as politically incorrect as they come. He will call people “losers” or “lightweights” without hesitation, and hearing a presidential candidate not acting like a typical politician is refreshing to many audiences.

Therefore, television networks are taking advantage of the fact that people like to listen to Mr. Trump. From a business standpoint, I can see why. These networks can sell 30-second advertisements to businesses for huge amounts of money, and make enormous profits off of it. However, in an effort to drive profitability, networks are telling their moderators to keep pressing the candidates with questions that ultimately lead them to square off against one another. If you have been watching the debates, you know what I am talking about. We saw this in the first debate with the candidates squaring off against Mr. Trump. We saw this in the second debate with Donald Trump going against Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul. And in the third debate, the personal attacks came from the CNBC moderators, leading to a verbal showdown that captivated audiences, but accomplished nothing in regards to discussing world issues.

The purpose of these debates is to give candidates the opportunity to address Americans as to how they will go about solving issues that face America. The problem is that the television networks know that this is not the main reason people tune in to watch the debate in its entirety. Let’s be honest, not many people would willingly watch a two-hour talk show about topics that while important, usually do not do much in terms of entertainment value. But when Trump called Bush “low-energy” and Bush responded with a negative retort of his own, television networks see this as an opportunity to increase their viewership which as a result leads companies to be willing to pay more money for advertising because they know they will be promoting their product to an increased number of people.

But what is happening is actually a disservice to the American people. Unless you read as much political news as possible, you probably do not know a lot of the candidates’ positions on issues such as the Syrian refugee crisis, how to handle ISIS, the Iran nuclear deal, or how to decrease the national debt. But we do know Donald Trump is not a fan of Jeb Bush. We do know that they all dislike Hillary Clinton, and we know that they all think they are wonderful. But that’s about it. How are people going to make the right decision on who to support when political debates are more focused on arguing about personal attacks instead of about relevant issues?

Right now, we have China ripping us off left and right economically. They are building man-made islands in the South China Sea. Our jobs are going to other countries, like India, China, Japan and Mexico. The Middle East is completely destabilized. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is engaged in a civil war against his own people, who are leaving the country in droves, causing the European Union and America to consider what to do. Vladimir Putin is doing whatever he wants with no pushback, and now our own allies in Israel and Saudi Arabia are not happy with us. And that is not even considering our economic issues, such as the unemployment rate and Obamacare, which is a complete disaster.

But television networks do not seem to care about these issues. They only care about making money, and as a result, productive discussions about the future of our country are being tossed aside as though they are of no importance. Television networks need to stop being so selfish and greedy and get back to the real purpose of presidential debates. These debates are showing that we favor entertainment value over more serious issues which is a complete disgrace. America, it is time to wake up and focus on what is really important.