Monday, August 18, 2008

Saturday's Poltical Forum Possibly Rigged?

Okay, so I'm kinda pissed.

There was a political forum Saturday where Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, asked the candidates identical questions on various topics, which were played live on CNN. Though I was more than a bit iffy about a political forum being held in a church, I was interested in the forum due to its format; identical questions asked individually of the two candidates.

Warren stated that Obama was randomly selected to be asked the questions first. The idea was (and it was explicitly stated) that McCain would be placed into a "cone of silence" (a soundproof room) while Obama was being asked his questions, so that McCain wouldn't have heard them beforehand.

Obama answered his questions fairly well, considering he was in a forum where people wouldn't necessarily be inclined to agree with a lot of his opinions. There were a lot of opinions concerning issues such as abortion, stem cell research, and gay marriage: basically the right-wing wedge issues. There were very few concerning things like the Iraq war, the environment, and international diplomacy: Obama's strengths. But it was about what I expected from a forum being held in a church, and considering that locale, the questions weren't too one-sided.

Obama's answers were nuanced, and he was clearly attempting to be diplomatic; he was trying to find ways to reach out to voters who would disagree with him on a lot of these issues. I especially liked his answer to the abortion question, in which he tried to specify ways that people on both sides of the issue could work together to reduce the need for abortions in the first place. That's the sort of innovative compromise we need.

When McCain came out, I was a little bit bothered by his answers, and not only because I'm (admittedly) a little biased. Many times, he was extremely quick to respond to questions (sometimes when Warren wasn't even finished asking them) with very black-and-white answers and moral absolutes. There were a couple of questions to which he only gave one-word answers and didn't elaborate at all. While this frankly disturbs me (I don't believe in moral absolutes beyond the obvious ones like "killing people is bad", and I don't think there is any issue facing any national leader that isn't significantly complex), some people are interested in leaders who will make these kinds of absolute determinations and stick to them no matter what. After all, it worked out pretty well for Bush.

Still, I was a little taken aback by McCain's unusually quick answers, considering the fact that he usually pauses a moment or two before answering a question during his campaign. Apparently, I was not the only one, and some reporters actually did their jobs for once and investigated it. See, it turns out that McCain was not in a "cone of silence" after all. So where was he during Obama's interview?

He was in a car on the way to the event.

Yep. You heard me. Warren was either unaware of this, or he lied when he said McCain was "safely in a cone of silence." McCain himself misled the public when Warren asked him what it was like in the cone of silence, and McCain jokingly answered, "I was trying to hear through the wall."

So what do those involved have to say about it now?

Warren says that he flat-out asked the McCain campaign whether the candidate listened in on Obama's interview and that the campaign had "confirmed that McCain did not hear or see any of the broadcast." Yes, I'm sure we can trust a political campaign on that.

McCain spokeswoman Nicolle Wallace had this to say: "The insinuation from the Obama campaign that John McCain, a former prisoner of war, cheated is outrageous." Gee, he's already been proven to lie, or at least mislead, on several occasions. I discussed one of them here (Ethics item one); cheating doesn't seem like that big a step.

To CNN's credit, they themselves have made some of this information public. However, I'm not sure I have done it yet, so I would like to warn anyone who reads this (yeah, all three of you) that the big news networks are a very unreliable source of news. They are motivated by money (and therefore ratings) and have proven time and again that they are not above manipulating a story to increase their ratings. They do this to such an extent that whenever they play a space-related news story of which I have some knowledge, I always notice get something wrong, or exaggerate some aspect of the story to increase its importance, or outright mislead.

A good example of this is a year ago when a few of the Space Station's computers failed, and some of these news networks were playing it up like the whole thing would have to be abandoned! In reality, the computers that failed controlled the station's orientation and oxygen systems. However, the backup orientation systems kicked in until the glitch was fixed, and the station had enough spare oxygen to last nearly three months. Few involved were even worried about the possibility of abandoning the station. You wouldn't know that, though, if you had read this USA Today article, which mentions abandonment in the first sentence, and comes complete with an out-of-context quote from a NASA official.

Great job, guys. Entertainment this is; news this is not.

And that's all I have to say about that.

EDIT: Okay, one more thing to say. I just found out about the website which provides news stories, and then allows people to rate the stories for qualities like accuracy and fairness. And interesting project; we'll see if it works.

Progress: 4.03%  Flight Time: 0:06:05

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