How Viewers Of The Presidential Debates Can Become Better Informed Voters (And Not Alienate Family and Friends)

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(Author’s Note: This is the second in a series of political articles for CommPRO.biz that I’ll be writing leading up to Election Day. Some opinions expressed are from current occurrences; others from my first public relations job, with a political firm, where I worked on local, statewide and presidential campaigns. In politics, the hackneyed expression, “history repeats” is true. Much of what I experienced in those long-ago days are happening as you are reading this.)

Arthur Solomon

On August 12, on this website, I wrote a column titled, “Political Lessons Learned From The Primary Season (And How They Apply To Agency Situations.”)

Part of the column read, 

“Soon the presidential debates will begin with their ridiculous format of having the candidates answer questions in a few seconds, instead of giving them sufficient time to fully state their positions. 

Even worse, after each debate TV pundits will criticize the demeanor, if not the replies, of the candidates and wonder if they “can recover from their poor performance.” (Question: Who elected the TV pundits to decide which candidate was better? Answer: They elected themselves. ) But the main reason these presidential debates are as ridiculous as the ones held during the primaries is because too many people think the way candidates can answer a question is the determining factor on how they will govern as president. And TV is to blame for that preposterous assumption.

There’s a simple way that the cable networks can improve their election night coverage: Do away with the multi-tiered panels of pundits, where each one has a different opinion, and just report the votes tallies as they are known. (But I have a better chance of becoming president than the cables doing that.)Also, candidate’s remarks should be fact checked for accuracy as they make them. Period. Exclamation Point.”

Now the first of three presidential debates, scheduled for Tuesday, September 29, is only several days away. Here are my suggestions how viewers of the debates can become better informed voters.

(This might be the best of the debates because the scheduled questioner is Fox News’ Chris Wallace, an aggressive interviewer who surly will not serve up softball questions to either candidate and is not fearful of asking tough follow-up questions, differing him from the majority of TV reporters.)

  • Do not tune in any cable dominated pundit political show for at least 48 hours prior to a debate. (Most pundits couch their opinions with statements like, “It looks like, but,” thus giving them an out if their predictions are wrong, which they mostly are.)
  • Do not tune in any cable dominated pundit political show for at least 48 hours after a debate. (Most pundits couch their opinions with statements like, “It looks like, but,” thus giving them an out if their predictions are wrong, which they mostly are.) Note: The duplication of this comment and the one above is intended.)
  • On the nights of the debates, shut off your TV immediately after they have concluded. Doing so will prevent you from hearing the dishonest scripted comments from candidate’s surrogates in the spin room, or the uninformative gibberish of the TV pundits.
  • Better still, listen to the debates on radio. In their September 26, 1960 TV debate, viewers who watched it clearly thought JFK won because he looked young and healthy; his opponent Richard Nixon looked pale, listless and ill. (He had recently been in a hospital because of a knee injury and lost weight.) But people who listened to the debate on radio had a different opinion: At best JFK was tied with Nixon; others, including liberal and conservative print pubs, thought Nixon was the winner.
  • Remember: What Joe Biden says might be exaggerated, but what President Trump says will probably be a lie.
  • The day after the each debate, read transcripts of what the candidates said and the hard news reports of the debate in trusted major dailies like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, (but disregard quotes from the candidate’s surrogates). Do not read the opinion columns of the print pundits, known as columnists, the editorials or Op-Ed articles.

    Once the debates are concluded, I suggest the following:

    • Refrain from using social media sites until after the election. Information on the sites is not to be believed.
    • If you must go on-line, read only the sites of respected news outlets.
    • Delete all political emails without reading them. They are only sent by supporters of a specific candidate and are geared to a specific type of voter, even though the candidate might vote differently if elected.
    • Discard political snail mail without reading. They are only sent by supporters of a specific candidate and are geared to a specific type of voter, even though the candidate might vote differently if elected. 
    • Tune out the daily cable news political shows. Daily reporting of what candidates say, while not providing detailed insight of the candidate’s statements, is a waste of your time. After a few news cycles you’re already familiar with candidate’s non- specific general declarations.
    •  Remember: Political shows go-to formula is to have Democratic and Republican spokespeople comment on the campaign. What do you expect them to say? Duh!
    • Don’t waste your time watching the Sunday morning political shows. With the exception of Chris Wallace’s show, where hardballs are tossed equally at Republicans and Democrats, and occasionally on Jake Tapper’s program, softball questions are the norm for guests. The Sunday morning shows rely on Democratic and Republican politicians/spokespersons to appear. Treating them kindly is the rule. Again, what do you expect them to say? More Duh.
    • Know your pundits before taking what they say seriously. (My advice is to disregard what they say.) Many are former campaign directors of failed campaigns. And journalist pundit’s predictions aren’t any better than race track touts. Remember: In 2016, a late addition to the pundits’ line-up was Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski by CNN. CNN said that Lewandowski may be legally unable to say anything negative about Trump because of a nondisclosure agreement.
    • Don’t take attack ads seriously. Most are completely devoid of the truth, or at best misleading. Even if they use candidate’s exact words the accompanying visuals can change the meaning of the words.
    •  Never, ever, take seriously comments from talk radio, talk TV political show hosts or print columnists. They are certainly not objective and in many cases are filled with lies and/or misleading commentary.
    • Don’t listen to supposedly impartial spokespeople from think tanks. Think tanks have agendas. Impartiality is rare, if ever.
    • Don’t believe opinions written for social network sites. Anyone can write anything, (like me, but I don’t) with little or no accuracy checks.
    • Don’t take the ubiquitous political polls too seriously. A 2015 New York Times story about polling reported that in 2014, only eight percent of people called responded to polls because of the increased use of answering machines and cell phones (and perhaps maybe because people like me are tired of being interrupted by robot calls). Today, because of the increased use of mobile phones by younger people, getting their opinions is even more difficult.
    • And especially don’t be swayed by the comments of politicians after rulings with which they disagree. Before clearing Hillary Clinton of criminal charges, FBI director James Comey was hailed by Republican politicians as the greatest person since Moses came down the mountain with the Ten Commandments. Immediately after his decision, these same Republicans denounced Comey as if he was Attila the Hun, Hitler and Pontius Pilate incarnate.
    • Remember: When President Trump speaks lies or misleading statements (more than 20,000 to date, according o fact checkers) comes out of his mouth.

      What you should do to become a better informed voter is to read a major daily newspaper’s political reporting. If there’s not a major paper in your community, subscribe to one online, or visit web sites of major pubs that don’t charge a fee. (The Associated Press (A.P.) has a fine free daily on-line news site.)

      Doing the above will make you a better informed voter, which should matter to all voters, but unfortunately will not to most voters.

      And three very important political distancing suggestions not associated with Covid-19.

      • Do not discuss politics at family gatherings.
      • If your social set includes friends or relatives that you know are on the opposite side of the political spectrum than you, try to avoid them until after the election.
      • And most important: If the candidate you support is elected, do not call any relative or friend who has supported the losing candidate for at least a week after the election.

      The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com or artsolomon4pr@optimum.net.