Debates Are Over, But Push For More Openness Continues
Yes, the debates are over.
But a group of online activists -- comprised of folks from both sides of the aisle -- isn't done yet.
The Open Debate Coalition is pushing to remove copyright restrictions on clips of the presidential debates, so bloggers, YouTubers and MySpacers can post snippets on their sites and profiles. More broadly, the coalition wants to revamp the debate process, which includes possibly dismantling the current Commission on Presidential Debates, to get ready for the next election cycle.
Both the Obama campaign and the McCain campaign wrote letters in support of the coalition's principles, such as letting voters submit questions online rather than relying on the questions asked by media moderators. The group's organizer, Larry Lessig, said the support from both campaigns would be an important "precedent" going forward.
In a memo to coalition members, Lessig laid out the next steps:
1) Video rights in 2008. There is still a possibility that video rights to this year's debates will be put in the public domain. This is being worked on, and if it comes through, it will be yet another important precedent and a show of momentum. If folks with blogs want to ramp up the call on the Commission on Presidential Debates and the TV networks to release video rights, that would be helpful. If you know either of the Commission chairs (Kirk and Fahrenkopf) or higher-ups at TV networks, and want to get more involved, please let me know.
2) Reform or scrap the Commission on Presidential Debates. As we stated in our last letter, even though Obama, McCain, and the public all agreed on 'open debate' principles, the Commission refused to implement these principles or even engage in dialogue about them. Therefore, the outdated, top-down Commission has got to go -- or be dramatically reformed. 2008 should be the last year that the Commission on Presidential Debates exists as we know it. All of us can help make clear that, in the future, voters must "own" the debates -- and we demand debates that are democratic, transparent, and accountable to the public. This push will likely come after the election, unless there's some universal outrage tonight. We've laid the groundwork for this fight.
3) Moving beyond presidential debates. There's a clear path for us to affect the 2012 presidential debates together. But part of the strategic significance of this 2008 push is that it will have a ripple affect on all debates. We are reshuffling the norms, and we can use the momentum we've gained in 2008 to tackle debates in 2009 and 2010. For instance, we've heard that the League of Women Voters refuses to let people share key moments from local, state, and congressional debates. We now have leverage to let them know that's not acceptable, and to usher in modernization of those rules.
Conservative activist Grover Norquist, who is president of Americans for Tax Reform, also joined the coalition last night. In an email to Politico, he said, "...if the Commission wants to show any bit of responsiveness this year, they'll make sure that debate footage is put in the public domain so people can put clips on YouTube and otherwise share key moments without being deemed copyright lawbreakers."
October 16, 2008; 11:05 AM ET
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