The Silence of the Sheep
“I can’t remember ever listening to a presidential debate where I never heard a single cough from the audience.”
In the half hour before Wednesday’s presidential debate between President Barack Obama and challenger Governor Mitt Romney, representatives of the Commission on Presidential Debates and moderator Jim Lehrer threatened the University of Denver audience with everything short of waterboarding if they uttered a single squeak during the debates.
Denver Presidential Debate, October 3, 2012
It’s obvious this policy is intended to suppress stocking the audience with partisans for each of the candidates who would turn this into just another campaign rally; but the problem is that this demand for absolute silence would have denatured the best moments of prior debates, particularly the 1980 debate when Ronald Reagan told Jimmy Carter, “Well, there you go again!” and in 1988 when Vice Presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen told Dan Quayle, “I knew Jack Kennedy and, Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
It foils the whole purpose of the debates if the wit of the candidate lays eggs because the audience has been forbidden to laugh.
This process is made worse by audio technology that with highly directional mikes for the candidates and moderator, combined with background noise threshold suppressors, effectively censors audience reaction for the listening TV and radio audiences.
The result as applied to this past Wednesday’s debate — despite the usual tropes from Fox News pundits that the debate format favored President Obama — is that Obama delivered two to three times as many laugh lines as Romney … and it worked to the advantage of Romney that the rules silenced not only the audience but censored one of the two candidates’ superior debate tools.
Now in production: Alongside Night. Look for it in 2013!