GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is blasting NBC News for the way it handled Monday evening’s debate. In particular, Gingrich threatened to boycott future debates if audiences were forced to hold their applause and remain silent. NBC News’ Brian Williams instructed the audience that they could applaud only on commercial breaks. Can we really tell humans to stop being human? Adding to that… does a debate audience even serve a purpose?
As reported on The Caucus blog, Gingrich is up in arms over the attempted silencing of Monday night’s debate audience:
Gingrich said that he should have “protested when Brian Williams took them out of it because I think it’s wrong.”
Gingrich added: “And I think he took them out of it because the media is terrified that the audience is going to side with the candidates against the media, which is what they’ve done in every debate.”
So what do you think? It’s simple human nature for someone to react to a statement, comment, joke, zinger, or whatever. The audience reaction is often a solid indicator of the strength of the comment (or lack thereof). There have been plenty of times during these numerous debates where a candidate tried a zinger that fell flat. You could hear crickets instead of applause.
To ask an audience to hold back something that is inherently spontaneous is just asking for frustration. People can’t do it. So, NBC News or any other organization is wrong to make such demands or requirements.
But there is a larger question here. What is the point of an audience? They often indicate their pleasure or displeasure with a statement, but does that make the statement any more accurate or inaccurate? Should audience reaction be a factor in how the television audience grades the candidates after a debate?
Here’s a novel idea. How about if we do away with the audience completely? Just have a moderator or panel of questions and the candidates. Ask them questions and get answers. There would be no boos, no laughter, no applause. All a viewer would have would be the candidates’ responses. Granted, a person watching the debate would likely have to think about the questions and answers a little bit more, and perhaps investigate if a response was accurate, but isn’t that what we want out of a voter?
There’s too much emphasis on sounds bites and zingers. Rather than playing to the audience, shouldn’t the candidates play to the voters?