The most interesting part of the debate
(And how it might have been improved....)

My liveblogging skills are not what they should be, and that is mainly because my typing skills are not what they should be.

And now for my "blame a bad childhood" defense: I didn't grow up at a keyboard the way a lot of younger people have, and when I was in high school, essays were hand-written save the occasional "project" which required typing -- a special skill often farmed out to others for money. Even as late as 1982 when I took the California bar exam, essays had to be written out by hand, and there were no computer terminals to use. Although there was a "typing room" for old-fashioned typewriters, a minority of test-takers used it. In high school (which is when one normally learns these things) computers were a big deal, reserved for the super nerds only. Remember, this was the late 60s and early 70s; my school had what was called a "computer room" but that wasn't a computer in the modern sense, and I'm not even sure it was a true computer, because in order to use it you had to not only know what you were doing, but reserve "computer time" -- which meant that it called the "real computer" located somewhere else. This was a big deal, and if you didn't know what you were doing, they wouldn't let you use it. I actually did look at it once, it had a telephone dial, and spat out computer tape which looked like a long strip with lots of tiny nonsensical holes. Hardly the sort of thing which would have inspired typing skills. I never learned to type, and when I worked as a lawyer, I had a secretary. I didn't start going online until 1994, and I found myself hunting and pecking, and over the years I got faster at it until I don't need to look at the keys all that much.

I'm therefore self taught, but typing is a second language, and I'm slow. Last night, I was barely able to keep pace with the debate's questions and answers, and I kept noticing and impulsively correcting errors, which gave me no time to think or evaluate. It felt as if I was a scribe, and a semi-literate one at that.

For me the most interesting part of the debate was not the debate at all -- but the opportunity to interact with other bloggers and see old friends.

I met up with a number of old friends. Here I am with La Shawn Barber:

EricLaShawn.jpg

And here are the people most responsible for my being there last night -- Newsbusters' founder Matthew Sheffield and Media Bloggers Association's Robert Cox:

SheffieldCox.jpg

And here's the great blogger and video producer extraordinaire Ian Schwartz with Matthew Sheffield:

SheffieldSchwartz.jpg

OK, now for what would have been a very exciting topic for the debate.

One of the questions (asked by PBS's Ray Suarez) concerned the death penalty.

Suarez: Congressman Paul, support has gradually been slipping for the death penalty among all Americans. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reports a large minority of whites still support capital punishment, while Blacks and Latinos do not.

Now, I know this is mostly a state function, but the president does appoint appellate judges, and of course, the highest appellate judges in the land, the Supreme Court justices, who often review death penalty cases.

Do you think the death penalty is carried out justly in the United States? And do you want to see it continued during your presidency?

This would have been an excellent opportunity to point out something of which only a few bloggers are aware -- that debate moderator Tavis Smiley had called George W. Bush a "serial killer" for carrying out the death penalty as Texas Governor.

Ian Schwartz posted about it, and Newsbusters links the original Smiley remark, made on the Geraldo Rivera show on October 24, 2000:

Geraldo Rivera found someone more extreme than himself, a star of another cable network's evening interview show, who told Rivera: "As far as I'm concerned, Bush in Texas is nothing more than a serial killer."

That charge came from Tavis Smiley, host of BET Tonight on the Black Entertainment Television channel. MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed how Smiley opined during the October 24 Rivera Live on CNBC:

"There are, there are some issues on which if you are a voter of color, certainly if you are an African-American, you have a hard time choosing. For example, both of these guys support the death penalty. As far as I'm concerned, Bush in Texas is nothing more than a serial killer. But we, but we cannot expect that much more out of, out of Gore, because this guy supports the death penalty as well."

What a conundrum.

In a later post, Tim Graham notices that this extreme show of bias is being completely ignored by people who ought to know better, like Newt Gingrich:
Does Gingrich think that's "responsible" commentary?
I'm not expecting any more of an answer from Newt than Matt Sheffield got from Smiley last night.

Maybe it's because I'm a pit bull owner, but I admire spunk, and I really enjoyed watching Matt elbow his way past the hordes of fawning reporters to get right up to Tavis Smiley and ask him about the serial killer remark. Smiley's response was pure politics, and zero journalism:

"I never said that."
Not to be so easily outdone, Matt scurried back to his laptop, and came running back with the details of the quote.

Once again, Smiley the pure:

"I don't remember saying that."
Moments later, the questions were over! Smiley's security assistant put one arm behind his back, opened the door and Smiley was hustled out of there the way I've seen many a politician being hustled out by his "handlers."

I'm sure that Smiley thinks no one will ever notice, but I did. A lowly blogger (or, a "citizen journalist" as the big guys sometimes grudgingly allow) dared to ask the reigning media figure of the evening about what he said which goes to the heart of his political bias (and which was clearly relevant to an important question in the debate), and he first issued a flat out denial, then backtracked to not remembering, and then he was out of there.

A seemingly insignificant matter? I don't think so. I see it as a classic example of what blogging is all about. Tavis Smiley would have everyone believe that he is the guy who talks truth to power, yet here he can't even acknowledge the truth of what came out of his own very powerful mouth.

Who are the politicians? Who are the journalists? Here a guy who presents himself as a "man of the people" style journalist behaved as a classic prevaricating politician, and the real journalist was Matt Sheffield.

Once again, I think it was very disappointing that the leading GOP candidates failed to show up. While it's not much of an excuse, the fact is that they did behave in the way politicians often behave.

So what is Tavis Smiley's excuse? Should I just consider him another politician? He certainly walked, talked, and acted like one. (Sure, he's not elected but he behaves as if he's a member of the ruling class.)

It must be galling for someone like that to have real journalism appear -- especially when it takes the form of a blogger asking uncomfortable questions.

UPDATE: Via Matt Sheffield, Ian Schwartz got the video of Smiley being asked the question by Matt, and his haughty reply -- the exact words of which are quite specific:

"I have never called President Bush a serial killer," Smiley asserted. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Here it is:

Adds Matt,

When confronted with an exact citation (October 24, 2000 on CNBC's "Rivera Live," Smiley became far less definitive. "I don't ever remember saying that," he said. Smiley left immediately thereafter.
And also via Matt, the video of Smiley's orginal remarks.

Calling a future president a "serial killer" on national television shortly before an election is not the sort of thing most people would forget saying.

(Not that I much blame Tavis Smiley for wanting to forget.....)

MORE: I'm glad Ian Schwartz got this on video, because now that I've watched it, I think Smiley is the kind of guy who might actually try to deny that he ever gave the above answer.

And now there's no denying the denial!

My thanks to Ian Schwartz and Matt Sheffield for the links!

posted by Eric on 09.28.07 at 10:50 AM










Comments

Make your voice count, shame on them. Always ask yourself who owns the Lobby system, and where more emphasis needs to be put going forward to get your rights.

Who do you think won the All American Presidential forum debate at Baltimore's Morgan State University? ----> http://www.youpolls.com/details.asp?pid=604
.

PollM   ·  September 28, 2007 11:10 AM

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