In perhaps the most embarrassing performance by the media in a major presidential debate in years, ABC News hosts Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos focused mainly on trivial issues as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama faced off in Philadelphia. They, and their network, should hang their collective heads in shame.
Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the health care and mortgage crises, the overall state of the economy and dozens of other pressing issues had to wait for their few moments in the sun as Obama was pressed to explain his recent "bitter" gaffe and relationship with Rev. Wright (seemingly a dead issue) and not wearing a flag pin -- while Clinton had to answer again for her Bosnia trip exaggerations.
Then it was back to Obama to defend his slim association with a former '60s radical -- a question that came out of right-wing talk radio and Sean Hannity on TV, but was delivered by former Bill Clinton aide Stephanopoulos. This approach led to a claim that Clinton's husband pardoned two other '60s radicals. And so on. The travesty continued.
More time was spent on all of this than segments on getting out of Iraq and keeping people from losing their homes and -- you name it. Gibson only got excited complaining that someone might raise his capital gains tax. Yet neither candidate had the courage to ask the moderators to turn to those far more important issues. Talking heads on other networks followed up by not pressing that point either. The crowd booed Gibson near the end. Why didn't every other responsible journalist on TV?
To top it off, here is David Brooks' review at the New York Times: "I thought the questions were excellent." He gives ABC an "A." Of course, "A" can stand for many things.
Greg Mitchell is author of the new book, So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. It has been hailed by Bill Moyers, Glenn Greenwald, Arianna Huffington and many others and features a preface by Bruce Springsteen. Mitchell is editor of Editor & Publisher. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.