Thursday, February 2, 2012

Politics:  With Audiences Encouraged to React, Primary Debates Seem More Made for TV

... the protocol for the general election debates, which are overseen by the Commission on Presidential Debates, is that audiences sit in virtual silence or risk being escorted out.

But the primary debates play by different rules. They are often co-sponsored by state parties or other political organizations, like the Tea Party Express, which teamed up with CNN for a debate in September. These groups are given discretion over most of the tickets, meaning that the audiences are usually a politically charged bunch.

Network executives from Fox and CNN argue that regardless of the occasionally unruly crowds, their presidential debates are civic exercises intended to help educate and inform voters. But they also see the debates' value as television productions. Active, engaged crowds are fun to watch. People who sit on their hands are not.

A debate with a mute audience, said Michael Clemente, senior vice president for news at Fox News, is like a movie without a soundtrack. Fox's productions tend to be some of the slickest in the business, complete with a boom camera that sweeps over the roaring crowd, sometimes thousands strong.

For its part, CNN is proceeding with Thursday's debate as it would for any other. Their stage director will be in Jacksonville, Fla., to loosen up the crowd of 1,200, most invited by the state Republican Party. Reaction will be encouraged, as long as it is respectful.

For more, see With Audiences Encouraged to React, Primary Debates Seem More Made for TV by Jeremy W. Peters, January 25, 2012 at NYTimes.com.

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