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Warner vs. Gilmore: The Debate TV Won't Show You

You could barely escape the Palin-Biden vice-presidential debate last night--and who would want to? (Don't answer that question.) But if you're a northern Virginia resident interested in this fall's faceoff between two former governors now running for the U.S. Senate, you can forget about watching tonight's debate on TV as it unfolds in Roanoke at 7 p.m.

In every other market in Virginia--even in extreme western Virginia where the local TV station is across the state line in Tennessee--the debate between Mark Warner and Jim Gilmore will be carried live on local TV. But not a single Washington TV station, despite all their promotional yammering about how much they care about this area, will provide live coverage the only televised debate of this campaign.

(NewsChannel 8 will show a tape of the debate at 11 p.m.)

Our local stations couldn't possibly air the debate at 7 p.m. because of the pressing, essential programming they are providing instead: Channel 7 will fill the hour with "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy;" Channel 5 has late-breaking reruns of "The Simpsons" and "Seinfeld;" Channel 4 has NBC network news, followed by "Access Hollywood;" and Channel 9 is busy with local news and then "Entertainment Tonight."

Across the rest of Virginia, stations affiliated with every one of the same networks represented in Washington--CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC--have made the opposite decision. In the Norfolk area, the debate will be on both Fox and PBS (Washington's PBS outlet, WETA, which is actually based in the commonwealth of Virginia, in Shirlington, will carry the NewsHour instead of the debate.)

Especially eager voters will be able to find the debate streaming online--check the site of the TV station that is hosting the debate, WSLS in Roanoke. Here on, you can watch the live stream of the debate and check in with our live blog from Roanoke as well. The debate is also scheduled to be picked up by C-SPAN.

Polling shows Warner to be far, far ahead of Gilmore in the race to succeed Sen. John Warner, but that doesn't excuse the decision to bypass the only TV meeting between the candidates in the most important race on Virginia ballots other than the presidency.

When not a single radio station that can be heard in Washington carries the baseball playoffs, as has been the case this week, that's a problem the market should be able to fix--if fans make enough noise, some station will find it worthwhile to pay to carry the games. But when TV stations form a united front against providing basic and important information to voters, that's when the lazy regulators at the FCC need to start throwing their weight around.

By Marc Fisher |  October 3, 2008; 3:03 PM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

We see who the real stars of this election are. Participate in a national poll give your oppinion about the VP debate.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 3, 2008 3:46 PM

Posted by: Scott | October 3, 2008 6:25 PM

I was all set to watch the Warner-Gilmore debate tonight. Just as I've watched the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates. I searched for which of my stations would carry the debate. Search gave me your piece stating that no Washington DC area is carrying it, though every other Virginia TV market is. I am appalled. Once again, northern Virginia is not part of the rest of the state. Perhaps I should have stayed in Maryland or DC, both places where I lived in earlier years.
It is hard to believe that the accepted wisdom predicting the winner pre-determines how the democratic process should unfold, here in our nation's capital. Virginia is in play this year.
And a Senatorial race is important, always. I can't believe that no local TV station is carrying the debate. Sorry but I will not be too intellectually sharp at 11 pm if I can find the debate on taped replay.

Posted by: iread | October 3, 2008 9:18 PM

Channel 4 replayed the debate at 7am on Sunday morning. I'm sure there were many awake, alert voters tuned in.

Posted by: Manassas, VA | October 6, 2008 9:38 AM

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