I hadn’t really focused on this until I got the release from the state Democratic Party complaining about it:
Dear Brad,Earlier this week, SCETV announced they do not plan to televise any 2016 general election debates because they do not view the races to be “highly competitive.” We are circulating a petition asking them to reconsider this misguided decision; clickhere to add your name.It is regrettable that SCETV has apparently decided to focus on political punditry rather than informing the public about the choices facing voters this November.What’s more, their political punditry is woefully off the mark. A recent poll conducted by the Feldman Group found that 37% of South Carolina voters are more likely to vote for a Republican for Congress, while 34% are more likely to vote for a Democrat. For the state legislature, 36% of South Carolina voters are more likely to vote for a Republican, compared to 33% for a Democrat. Both of these results arewithin the poll’s margin of error of +/- 4%. And while Republicans did their best to rig the districts through undemocratic gerrymandering, the poll found that in the 1st Congressional District, voters’ preferences are evenly split, and in the 5th Congressional District, voters favor a Democrat by a 5-point margin. These results are the definition of ‘highly competitive.’Moreover, SCETV is assessing the competitiveness of these races more than two months before Election Day, when few voters have tuned in to down-ballot races. Denying voters the opportunity to directly compare candidates because SCETV thinks voters favor the better-known incumbents is putting the cart before the horse. This sort of amateur political punditry is unbecoming of an institution like SCETV with such a stellar track record of enriching our democracy. Sign the petition asking SCETV to draw upon their public interest roots and reverse this decision.In addition, SCETV will be holding a public meeting on September 13 at 11:00 amat 1041 George Rogers Blvd. in Columbia. Join us there as we ask SCETV to do what’s right for our democracy. With the support of thousands of South Carolinians like you signing the petition, we can give South Carolina voters a chance to make more fully informed decisions in November. The stakes are too high for anything less.Sincerely,Jaime HarrisonSCDP Chair
I wasn’t entirely clear on what the specific issue was here, so I wrote to Jaime Harrison to get clarification. Was he talking about congressional debates here, or what? The way this read, ETV could be refusing to carry presidential debates, but I didn’t think that was what this was about. And there are no statewide elections for state offices this year…
And was he saying ETV should stage debates, or merely televise (“televise” is the word the release used) debates that others are staging?
Hi Brad! So traditionally ETV has staged/televised debates between candidates. They recently had such a debate between Republican primary candidates Horne and Sanford. They also held several debates in the 2014 cycle.In this situation, Wilson and Bjorn have agreed to have a debate. The Bjorn campaign approached SCETV as did the SCDP. We were told that they had decided not to stage/televise any debates this cycle. It is one thing if this was a budgetary decision, but the quote in the paper made it seem as if it was an editorial one based on competitiveness.Jaime
I think what he’s referring to there is this, from The State:
South Carolina’s public broadcasting network will not televise debates between S.C. candidates ahead of the Nov. 8 general election.
SCETV made the editorial decision Monday – not long after receiving a request to televise a planned 2nd District debate between U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Springdale, and Columbia librarian Arik Bjorn.
“The main thing is our own resources and our staffing,” said Tom Posey, SCETV’s director of news and public affairs. He added the decision might have been different if the state had a series of “highly competitive” general election races….
I can see ETV’s point: The way our congressional districts are gerrymandered, we do pretty much have foregone conclusions in the general election. Joe Wilson has little to sweat about, to say the least. Pretending, even for the space of an hour’s debate, that this is an actual contest can have a certain Theater of the Absurd quality.
But on the other hand, should our public TV network just acquiesce in the way the Republican Party has taken control of our elections? Should the only debates it airs be between conservative incumbents and the primary challengers who keep pulling them farther and farther to the right? (OK, admittedly, the Horne-Sanford contest was an exception to that pattern, but that’s usually what Republican primaries are about.)
Should no other views get a hearing on ETV?
I appreciate ETV wanting to be careful with its resources. But saying “That’s just the way things are” to the ugly reality that gerrymandering gives us doesn’t seem right at all to me. It’s either naive — based in a lack of understanding of the way our lawmakers stack the deck — or it’s really cynical.
It’s one thing if the free marketplace of ideas has produced a race with a popular incumbent and a super-weak candidate who has no support. I could see not wasting money on that. I’ve spent a career using the brain God gave me to decide which races are worth spending finite resources on. (The political parties do the same thing, by the way.) But this isn’t a free-market thing. Elections this lopsided don’t just happen. You know how Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump and other paranoids are always going on about how the system is rigged? Well, in this case, it actually is. And our media — especially our public media — ought to be confronting that fact, not shrugging at it.
The Dems’ interest in having ETV give their guy a boost is plain, but they do have a point on this one. Their guy is going to get creamed not because he’s such an awful candidate, but because the Republicans in our Legislature have done their best to put as many of the state’s black voters they can into Jim Clyburn’s one district, making all six other districts unnaturally white, which in SC translates to Republican.
What do y’all think?