- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

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If a potted tree falls over in the middle of a televised political debate, will anybody hear it? Chances are no, unless you're among the debaters.

"If a Tree Falls in the Woods" is title of a new study examining TV coverage of the 2000 campaign debates, focusing specifically on Senate, House and gubernatorial contests. And one can't ignore the importance of presidential debates, either. Or can one?

"Until the 2000 campaign, when Fox decided not to cover the [presidential] debates live in favor of baseball and NBC failed to cover a debate in favor of entertainment programming, these debates had always been telecast live by all major networks in prime-time hours between 8 and 11 p.m. local time," says the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.

The committee argues that presidential debates, which date back to 1820 (the Lincoln-Douglass debates are considered a significant historical landmark, as are the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960), are the best single way for citizens to cut through the "demagogic advertising that has become the principal staple of campaigns and to make judgments, freed from the filters of journalistic commentary."

Regardless, the committee now finds, a majority of Americans don't tune in to watch debates, particularly featuring candidates below the presidential level. Why?

"Candidates for major offices held hundreds of debates in the 2000 general election, but the overwhelming majority of citizens could not see them because television stations, in general, and network affiliates in particular, largely failed to televise them," says CSAE Director Curtis Gans.

In fact, only 18 percent of congressional and gubernatorial debates were televised by network affiliates during the 2000 campaign season.

"It can be argued that debates for these offices are far more important to citizen decision-making than presidential debates," says Mr. Gans, yet for the "vast majority of citizens in these states and districts, it was as if these debates never happened."

That is why newspapers, like the one you're now reading, are worth their weight in ink.

Calling on Bubba

House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt has enlisted former President Bill Clinton to urge Democrats on official "Bill Clinton" stationery to "dig a little deeper" into their pockets in advance of the 2002 congressional elections.

"Let me be very clear with you," the ex-president writes in familiar Clinton-speak. "I did not have sexual " Er, sorry, my mistake.

Mr. Clinton actually wrote: "I've seen enough campaigns to know that many of them are won or lost long before Labor Day."

So, on behalf of the minority leader from Missouri, Mr. Clinton is asking for non-tax-deductible donations of anywhere from $25 to $100 or more, reminding party faithful that Democrats have gone from being "overwhelmed by the Gingrich Republicans to being on the verge of putting Dick Gephardt in the Speaker's chair."

Democrats have their work cut out for them in order to retake the throne filled by Republican House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican. One now finds in the House 222 Republicans, 211 Democrats, and two independents.

Gentle giant

Allen Bradford, a longtime assistant national editor of this newspaper and its Inside the Beltway column who died of lung cancer last Friday at George Washington University Hospital, was eulogized this week at the Foundry United Methodist Church.

The Rev. Walter Shropshire Jr., Mr. Bradford's pastor, was presiding minister of the service, attended by family, friends and fellow journalists.

Wesley Pruden, editor in chief of The Times, remembered the 64-year-old Mr. Bradford as being a quiet and gentle man, even in the newsroom. One person who couldn't agree more is ABC News anchorman Peter Jennings, who first met Mr. Bradford in India, where he'd spent 12 years with the network.

"I wondered at first how well someone as soft-spoken and gentle as Allen might do with the Indian military and the government bureaucracy," recalled Mr. Jennings in a letter read by Mr. Shropshire. "The answer was, just fine.

"Allen kept us ahead of the competition, and his quiet, inquisitive way impressed Indians with his genuine interest in them and what they cared about," the anchor said. "I remember the night Allen showed up with the most beautiful girl in town on his arm. The other journalists were very jealous. Allen introduced her all around in that wonderfully generous way of his, knowing correctly it turned out that she was interested only in him.

"Allen was always eager to help people who knew less than he did, myself included," Mr. Jennings concluded. "He was never stinting with what he knew. Passing knowledge on to the reader, the listener, and the viewer was what he loved."

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