This week's second presidential debate was widely criticized, with some going so far as to call it the worst ever. Among the Open Debate Coalition's requests is that "that the debate moderator has broad discretion to ask follow-up questions after a candidate's answer, so the public can be fully informed about specific positions," and that debate questions submitted and selected by the public be posed.
"The signers of this letter don't agree on every political issue," writes the group. "But we do agree that in order for Americans to make the best decision for president, we need open debates that are 'of the people' in the ways described above. You have the power to make that happen, and we ask you to do so."
Full letter, via Politico, below.
Dear Senator McCain and Senator Obama,
Thank you for your recent letters affirming our coalition's open debate principles, designed to make this year's presidential debates more "of the people" than ever before. As we approach the final debate on October 15, we ask you to proactively implement such principles right away.
The closed nature of the recent debates has been universally criticized. The editors of Politico wrote, "The presidential debate commission's rules are a scandal" resulting in "a format designed to limit improvisation, intellectual engagement, and truth-telling." 83% of Obama supporters and 75% of McCain supporters agree that tough follow-up questions were lacking. Even Saturday Night Live spoofed the lack of follow-up questions in the debates, and the watered-down "town hall" questions chosen.
Therefore, we ask you to jointly announce the following in advance of the October 15 debate:
1) That the debate moderator has broad discretion to ask follow-up questions after a candidate's answer, so the public can be fully informed about specific positions.
2) That after a "town hall" debate full of questions handpicked by the moderator, none of which were outside-the-box, you will allow Bob Schieffer to ask some Internet questions voted on by the public in the fashion outlined in our previous letter – which you agreed to. Existing technology will make this easy.
3) That, as a stipulation of the next debate, the media pool must release all 2008 debate footage into the public domain – as you agreed would be in the public interest. CNN, ABC, and NBC agreed to release video rights during the primary, and CBS agreed more recently. But Fox threatened Senator McCain for using a debate clip during the primary, and NBC invoked copyright law against Senator Obama to stifle political speech recently. The public deserves to know debate video can be reused without fear of breaking the law.
4) That you agree to work with the Open Debate Coalition after the election to reform or create an alternative to the Commission on Presidential Debates, so that the debate process is transparent and accountable to the public. Despite both of your agreement with the open debate principles, the Commission did nothing to implement them – or even to engage in dialogue about potential implementation. Also, the "31-page memo of understanding" with debate rules is nowhere on the Commission's website, and has not been turned over despite requests.
The signers of this letter don't agree on every political issue. But we do agree that in order for Americans to make the best decision for president, we need open debates that are "of the people" in the ways described above. You have the power to make that happen, and we ask you to do so.
Thank you for your willingness to take these ideas to heart. If you have any questions, please contact: OpenDebateCoalition@gmail.com
Lawrence Lessig; Professor, Stanford Law School, Founder, Center for Internet and Society
Ellen Miller; Executive Director, Sunlight Foundation
Craig Newmark; Founder, Craigslist
Jimmy Wales; Founder, Wikipedia
Aaron Swartz; Founder, Reddit
Patrick Ruffini; Republican consultant, former Republican National Committee eCampaign Director, and a blogger at TheNextRight.com
Mindy Finn; Republican strategist, former Mitt Romney Online Director, and a blogger at TheNextRight.com
Eli Pariser; Executive Director, MoveOn.org Political Action
Adam Green; Director of Strategic Campaigns, MoveOn.org Political Action
Arianna Huffington; Founder, HuffingtonPost.com
Markos Moulitsas; Founder, DailyKos.com
Roger L. Simon, CEO, Pajamas Media
Eric Burns; President, Media Matters for America
K. Daniel Glover, Executive Producer, Media Research Center's Eyeblast.tv, and of AirCongress
Jon Henke; New media consultant (including for Fred Thompson, George Allen, Senate Republican Caucus) and a blogger at TheNextRight.com
Matt Stoller; Founder/Editor, OpenLeft.com
James Rucker; Executive Director, ColorOfChange.org
Andrew Rasiej; Personal Democracy Forum and TechPresident.com
Micah Sifry; Personal Democracy Forum and TechPresident.com
Bill Mitchell; Professor, MIT
Josh Silver; Executive Director, Free Press
Carl Malamud; Founder, Public.Resource.Org
Clay Johnson; Director, Sunlight Labs
Robert Greenwald; President, BraveNewFilms
Kim Gandy; President, National Organization for Women
Roger Hickey; Co-Director, Campaign for America's Future
Billy Hallowell, Director of Content, VoterWatch
David Colarusso; Founder, communityCOUNTS.us