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Lessig (and others) Asks Candidates to Make Debates More Open

Kim Hart

Tonight's debate is officially on -- and a group of academics, Internet pioneers and technology advocates are asking the candidates to "open up" the debates to the public rather than being "controlled by the media."

Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales are among the signers of the letter that went to the campaigns of Obama and McCain this morning. The "Open Debate Coalition" also includes representatives from MoveOn.org, Newt Gingrich's group and Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The letter asks the candidates to insist on using a new method to choose debate questions. That job is usually left to the media host. Some questions were submitted online during the primary debates, but the coalition members say they weren't "hard-hitting enough."

Instead, they want to let people submit questions, then vote on their favorites, over the Internet. The top 25 questions would have the potential of getting asked during the debates.

"This is a historic election," the letter said. "The signers of this letter don't agree on every issue. But we do agree that in order for Americans to make the best decision for president, we need open debates that are 'of the people' in the ways described above. You have the power to make that happen, and we ask you to do so."

The Presidential Commission on Debates has a partnership with MySpace to stream the debates live on MyDebates.org. Users can then use clips from the debates to post to their profiles or personal sites.

"Most Americans get information about the decisions they make on election day from these debates," said Lee Brenner, executive producer of political programming for MySpace.

Current, an online network that streams news feeds, and Twitter have also teamed up to integrate real-time tweets over portions of a live television broadcast of the debates. The messages will then be collected and layered with individual comments over the debate feed.

"This cycle's YouTube debates were a milestone for Internet participation in presidential debates," the letter said. "But they put too much discretion in the hands of gatekeepers. Many of the questions chosen by TV producers were considered gimmicky... and never would have bubbled up on their own."

With or without questions from viewers, the current economic situation will undoubtedly leave the candidates with plenty to talk about.

By Kim Hart  |  September 26, 2008; 11:54 AM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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This would be a good idea, IF everyone had equal access to the Internet. As it is, internet users lean Democratic, so the questions would likely favor the Democrat. I happen to be a Democrat, but I know this would not be a fair or acceptable way to select questions.

Posted by: Frank | September 26, 2008 3:38 PM

WHILE WE ARE AT IT LET'S REALLY UPON UP THE DEBATE AND LET ALL THE CANDIDATES FROM EVERY PARTY JOIN IN ON THE FUN. THAT WOULD BE A TRUELY INTERESTING DEBATE.

Posted by: mosaic hair | September 26, 2008 4:36 PM

I like the idea, but as Frank says, there will be issues. Something has to be done to open up the narrow, hyper controlled nature of the debates.

Posted by: thebob.bob | September 26, 2008 5:21 PM

Posting the questions online for people to vote on them will not be a good idea since the candidates and their surrogates would already have answers for them. What would this accomplish?

Imagine taking an exam and you already know the answers.

Posted by: Omidal | September 26, 2008 5:56 PM

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