There was a brief televised “debate” the other day between Paul Krugman and Ron Paul, in which Paul continued to display his lack of basic comprehension of monetary policy, or, really, the nature of money itself. But as Krugman himself noted after the exchange, that doesn’t really come through in the cable debating format:
Think about it: you approach what is, in the end, a somewhat technical subject in a format in which no data can be presented, in which there’s no opportunity to check facts (everything Paul said about growth after World War II was wrong, but who will ever call him on it?). So people react based on their prejudices. If Ron Paul got on TV and said “Gah gah goo goo debasement! theft!” — which is a rough summary of what he actually did say — his supporters would say that he won the debate hands down; I don’t think my supporters are quite the same, but opinions may differ.
This pretty much sums up why I don’t watch cable news. But since television remains a major component of public discourse, for better or worse, it’s worth thinking about how to make exchanges of ideas actually valuable. What if the participants were given access to a producer and a nominal budget, then allowed to make their case in the form of a ten minute documentary? Play the two back-to-back, give the participants a chance to put together a five minute rebuttal to their opponent, then maybe have the two on camera for a brief face-to-face. Obviously this would take planning and cost more money than just sticking two people in front of a camera for five minutes and hoping sparks fly, but it might actually elevate the level of discourse.
I know, I know, flying pigs too. But worth thinking about.