Debate Format "Limiting," Prof. Jeff McCall '76 Tells Orlando Sentinel
October 8, 2004
October 8, 2004, Greencastle, Ind. - President George W. Bush "will probably be quite different... tonight in the town-hall setting of the second debate in St. Louis. His handlers will see to that," writes Hal Boedeker in Florida's Orlando Sentinel today. The column continues, "'They'll tell him, 'Every time you're not speaking, you have to look presidential, pleasant and confident, not peeved and annoyed,'' says Jeffrey McCall, a professor of communication at DePauw University." Dr. McCall -- a 1976 graduate of DePauw -- and colleagues from Georgetown and Colgate Universities, provide analysis in a preview of tonight's presidential debate.
"Ninety minutes of television close-ups might not give the most incisive looks at candidates," Boedeker writes. "McCall argues that too much is being made of their expressions. 'Television is a medium of emotions,' he says. 'It's easy to look at television and say this guy seems calm or polished. We're making judgments on superficial aspects rather than whether they are in command of the issues.'"
The text continues, "The debate format is so limiting that it prevents detailed discussion and reduces the event to a game. 'In this case, Kerry is a more polished presenter and public speaker,' McCall says. 'But this is a problem with the TV debate process. It creates in the public and media this sense we have to define winners and losers. I don't think that's a good idea. We should define them in the sense of whose argument made more sense.'"
Later, Boedeker notes, "McCall says that Cheney and Edwards each had their moments and that neither won. Yet the DePauw professor found faults, too: Edwards seemed overprogrammed. Cheney erred in saying he had never met Edwards. 'To personalize it took it to another level that wasn't necessary, and it backfired when people checked into it,' he says. In an opinion piece in the Washington Times, McCall said that this year's debates would be of little consequence because little true debating would occur. He says he's three-quarters decided about his candidate, but won't name him. 'I always leave open a bit of wiggle room,' he says. 'We have almost four weeks to Election Day. Given this political year, so many things could happen.'"Back