Watching the presidential debate reminds us, yet again, how poorly mainstream journalists have fulfilled their public responsibilities:
- How long did Jim Lehrer prepare his questions? You and I, Dear Reader, could have developed the same back-of-the-envelope list in about 5 minutes.
- Does Jim Lehrer know what the word "moderate" means? It doesn''t mean letting the parties to the debate talk about whatever they want, for however long they want.
- Can Jim Lehrer phrase a question with any teeth? The closest he got was his question about how the financial crisis will affect the next President's options. Unfortunately, he phrased it so poorly that both candidates could, once again, say what they want.
- Will Jim Lehrer ever challenge anything either candidate says, when it may be factually incorrect? Lehrer said, to explain his weak-suck performance as moderator in the 2004 debates, that challenging a candidate is tantamount to "making myself part of the story," whatever that means. How bizarre is it for someone who reports on current affairs not to use that knowledge to keep candidates from misleading the American electorate?
When I took a journalism class in college, our instructor, Joe Bell, a long-time reporter for The Los Angeles Times, had one principle that wove throughout the entire course: "Ask the tough questions." That's about as far away as Jim Lehrer's "don't challenge candidates, or else someone might notice you" approach as you can get.