Media Organizations Omit Mention of Trump’s Allegedly Criminal Exploitation of 2020 Debates

Twelve media organizations are clamoring for another set of debates between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. In their naive call for debates, they claim that because the stakes on this election are so high, “there is simply no substitute” for the candidates “debating” each other, presenting, “their visions for the future of our nation.”

With the contours of the 2024 general election now coming into clear focus, we – the undersigned national news organizations – urge the presumptive presidential nominees to publicly commit to participating in general election debates before November’s election.

General election debates have a rich tradition in our American democracy, having played a vital role in every presidential election of the past 50 years, dating to 1976. In each of those elections, tens of millions have tuned in to watch the candidates debating side by side, in a competition of ideas for the votes of American citizens.

Since 1988, the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates has sponsored all presidential general election debates. The Commission has previously announced dates, times, and eligibility criteria for 2024 debates. Though it is too early for invitations to be extended to any candidates, it is not too early for candidates who expect to meet the eligibility criteria to publicly state their support for – and their intention to participate in – the Commission’s debates planned for this fall.

If there is one thing Americans can agree on during this polarized time, it is that the stakes of this election are exceptionally high. Amidst that backdrop, there is simply no substitute for the candidates debating with each other, and before the American people, their visions for the future of our nation. [my emphasis]

I mean, they’re not wrong that debates provide an opportunity to display a candidate’s vision for America.

In the first debate in 2020, for example, Biden asked Trump to disavow right wing violence, and instead, Trump told the Proud Boys to “Stand Back and Stand By.”

Stoking political violence certainly is part of Trump’s “vision for the future of our nation.”

Because of the way Trump’s comment drove recruiting for the Proud Boys, it made the opening arguments of the Proud Boy leaders’ sedition trial.

If we’re lucky enough to get a Trump trial for January 6 (one that would likely create scheduling difficulties for a debate in any case and as such Trump would use as another attempt to stall accountability), Trump’s call out to the violent militia that kicked off the attack on the Capitol will feature prominently again. Prosecutors have already informed Judge Tanya Chutkan they plan to use both Trump’s call out and his later coddling of Enrique Tarrio to show how, both before and after the attack, Trump encouraged that assault on democracy.

The Government plans to introduce evidence from the period in advance of the charged conspiracies that demonstrates the defendant’s encouragement of violence. For instance, in response to a question during the September 29, 2020, presidential debate asking him to denounce the extremist group the Proud Boys, the defendant instead spoke publicly to them and told them to “stand back and stand by.” Members of the group embraced the defendant’s words as an endorsement and printed merchandise with them as a rallying cry. As discussed below, after the Proud Boys and other extremist groups participated in obstructing the congressional certification on January 6, the defendant made clear that they were acting consistent with his intent and direction in doing so.


Of particular note are the specific January 6 offenders whom the defendant has supported— namely, individuals convicted of some of the most serious crimes charged in relation to January 6, such as seditious conspiracy and violent assaults on police officers. During a September 17, 2023, appearance on Meet the Press, for instance, the defendant said regarding Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio—who was convicted of seditious conspiracy—“I want to tell you, he and other people have been treated horribly.” The defendant then criticized the kinds of lengthy sentences received only by defendants who, like Tarrio, committed the most serious crimes on January 6.

Effectively, this will make the Proud Boys quasi co-conspirators with Donald Trump at trial.

This is the kind of overt act in a criminal conspiracy to attack democracy itself that media outlets say is vital to our democracy.

But Trump’s exploitation of debates does not stop there.

Consider the allegations surrounding Tony Bobulinski, Fox News’ favorite source — at least, the favorite source who has not yet been indicted — for scandal-mongering about Hunter Biden.

For the third debate in 2020, after top Trump aides pitched Bobulinski tales to the WSJ based on laptop content that Hunter claims was stolen, Trump hosted Bobulinski as his guest. The very next day, Bobulinski marched into the FBI and is recorded as telling them a bunch of things that Bobulinski now claims he didn’t say — including that he saw Joe Biden get an enormous diamond from China. Weeks later, according to Cassidy Hutchinson, he had a secret meeting with Mark Meadows. Bobulinski doesn’t (now that Hutchinson released video evidence) deny the meeting; he denies he was handed something that might or might not be an envelope.

I guess framing your opponent’s son, like attacking democracy itself, is part of Trump’s vision for America. But actual journalists should not need — or want — a debate to serve as vehicle for that.

And while the circumstances around the third such instance of potentially criminal activity tied to a 2020 debate are less clear, one thing is not. As part of the Jeffrey Jensen effort to reverse the conviction of Mike Flynn, dates got added to the notes of Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe — inaccurate dates in at least one case.

Based on that inaccurate date, first Sidney Powell (who was in contact with Jenna Ellis at the time) and then Trump himself falsely claimed that Joe Biden — and not Bob Litt, as other evidence makes clear — first raised concerns that Mike Flynn may have violated the Logan Act by undermining foreign policy before he became National Security Advisor.

Trump gleefully used that fraudulent claim in the first debate against Biden.

President Donald J. Trump: (01:02:22)
We’ve caught them all. We’ve got it all on tape. We’ve caught them all. And by the way, you gave the idea for the Logan Act against General Flynn. You better take a look at that, because we caught you in a sense, and President Obama was sitting in the office.

It was another instance of an attempt to falsely frame his opponent.

So let’s grant the media outlets that Trump has gleefully displayed his vision of America at the 2020 debates with Joe Biden by serially attempting to frame his competitor and inciting violence.

But what I don’t understand — what makes me genuinely embarrassed for the group of good journalists who work at some of these media outlets — is why they believe there is “no substitute” for debates to tell such a story.

Are you telling me the only way you can convey to voters that Trump’s vision for America is violence, fraud, and revenge is by giving him a platform to engage in such activities? Why wouldn’t you instead pursue aggressive journalism to tell more of these stories?

Twelve media outlets claim that the only way they can display Trump’s dystopian vision for America is by being complicit in it.

Update: Many people, in comments and on social media, reminded me that Trump willfully exposed Biden and others to COVID.

158 replies
  1. BobBobCon says:

    “But what I don’t understand — what makes me genuinely embarrassed for the group of good journalists who work at some of these media outlets — is why they believe there is “no substitute” for debates to tell such a story.”

    A big piece of it is that the closer you get to the core of political journalism, the stronger the unexamined faith that everyone operates in good faith.

    It’s basically their religion that Trump will say things that are meaningful to the public. Probably even more so is their self-assurance that they can decode anything he says and explain his motives.

    Like this post says, January 6 proved that there are no boundaries for Trump. How do they think they can even guarantee the safety of the debate against another mob? If they want some kind of debate they need to show they’ve thought through how they could possibly deliver what they say they want, and that means getting Trump under control. But they’re in denial that it’s even necessary.

      • BobBobCon says:

        He blatantly violated Covid safety rules for press briefings on Covid!

        It got so bad that Dean Baquet finally pulled the plug on NY Times reporters attending briefings in the James Brady briefing room in the West Wing – quietly, of course, because he didn’t want to make it appear like the Times was taking a stand on anything.

        Press leadership has memoryholed Covid and January 6 – there were reporters in danger in the Capitol as the mob broke in – so that they can maintain their faith in something Trump and the GOP broke a long time ago.

      • LongtimeLurker says:

        Isn’t it clear that Chris Christie got COVID from Trump during debate prep – and ended up in the ICU?

  2. Rayne says:

    Yes. All of that. The push for presidential debates between Biden and Trump is an excellent example of news media’s reflexive behavior. They don’t appear able to imagine an alternative to debates on a shared stage even though a court found accusation of rape against Trump substantially true and he’s under multiple federal and state indictments.

    Why is the news media so intent on normalizing a rapist and an anti-democratic seditionist as a credible candidate for public office?

    What the hell is wrong with news media’s business model that they are so deeply entrenched in reflexivity?

    They weren’t even able to imagine an alternative in October 2020 during the pre-vaccine COVID pandemic, in the event that one of the two candidates had been exposed. Instead they allowed the event to become clickbait in spite of the possibility Team Trump deliberately proceeded with the debate in spite of Trump’s exposure to COVID and likely infectiousness, in order to harm opponent Biden.

    Not even immediate health risks with potentially fatal outcomes forced news media to rethink its reflexive reliance on debates. How fucked up is U.S. news media that it didn’t demand better risk mitigation, responding instead with business as usual?

      • BobBobCon says:

        Until the State of the Union made their game a joke, there was an active movement in the political press to force Biden to drop out this year.

        They are all for neutral abstract principles when they want to help Trump, and flip to advocacy when they want to damage Biden.

    • RipNoLonger says:

      That reflexivity that you reference is likely because this is what they’ve done in the past; it’s known and easy and has led to high viewer counts.

      Far be it from most of the honchos in the MSM to stop and think about a brand new way of getting candidates to share their opinions and platforms! I doubt anyone has thought of posting 20 questions requiring thorough answers, and then following up when the responses aren’t adequate. Written questions/answers and viewable by the public as submitted. If one of the candidates (for example) wants to USE ALL CAPS or an orange Sharpie, so be it. Visible by the public and contrastable with the other candidate’s.

  3. pH unbalanced says:

    I go back and forth on this.

    On the one hand, I just don’t think there is any substitute for having both candidates physically in the same place at the same time interacting. It engages with basic primate psychology, and provides one of the few opportunities to break through viewers preconceptions (unlikely as that may be).

    On the other hand…because it is so powerful, it gives Trump a powerful weapon, exactly as you described. (And you didn’t even bring up the whole “Did Donald Trump expose Joe Biden to Covid” past problem.)

    *I* want to see them debate. But I can be talked out of it.

      • pH unbalanced says:

        I mean, I would prefer a world where voters were making their choices based on rational assessments of policy, but I think most voters are making their choices emotionally. Showdowns are compelling for a reason, and we are all evaluating lots of different subtle things when we watch them, especially how they deal with an unscripted (ok…less scripted) confrontation.

        And honestly, the example you brought up is exactly the one I would have used. Hillary Clinton lost a contest of dominance. She didn’t know how to react, and the audience saw that. That absolutely gained Trump votes from people who wanted a “strong leader”.

        And that is 100% the danger of debates, that Trump will behave in a way that comes across as strong, but it is also the opportunity. If Biden can make him look weak, it can bypass the audience’s rationality filters and either change minds or depress enthusiasm.

        • Rugger_9 says:

          Given the desperate statements and mental decline already exhibited by Individual-1 I think Biden will wipe the floor with DJT. We’ll see DJT trying to talk over Biden and scream, but at the end of the day Biden will correctly point out the legion of problems faced between the trials and the various shady financial connections.

          Any HB reference will be met with Jarvanka references, for example.

          The only real question is whether the moderator will play fair, and I suspect the C-suite bozos will force their thumb on the scale to keep the horse race going.

          That would also assume that Individual-1 will actually go to the debate, given how he typically demands to testify in his trials and runs away when the time comes to provide a ‘closing statement’ that avoids any cross examination. He’ll loudly demand debates but will prevent them by preconditions impossible to meet.

        • earthworm says:

          If I had my wish Rayne would be appointed the DebateMeister.
          Normally, I’d agree that debates are good places to see how candidates reason and express themselves. If both of them are competent debaters.
          However, It seems clear Donald cannot behave! He has no intention of behaving. He is going into any debate strategizing with his homies how to be boorish. Why give him this opportunity, on a platter, to behave badly and steamroller over a civil process?
          Nothing was proven or settled by the 2020 debates, (2016 also) except that Donald is a punk and creep.

        • pH unbalanced says:

          I think what I have decided is that I’m totally fine with no debate if it can be spun as Trump’s decision.

          Biden deciding not to debate doesn’t look Presidential — it looks like he is afraid.

        • CovariantTensor says:

          Exactly my concern. In the game of debate chicken, whoever backs out loses. In particular if Biden declines to debate, using any excuse, it feeds the narrative he is too old (three years over Trump) and too mentally impaired to think on his feet.

          Whereas if draconian but reasonable under the circumstances, rules are proposed such as hard mic cut-off after your time has expired or when attempting to talk over your opponent, calling out by the moderator factual whoppers such as that the Democrats favor abortion after nine months and execution after delivery (and I don’t claim Biden doesn’t commit whoppers of his own occasionally), and Trump backs out claiming “Crooked Joe” will game those rules to his own advantage, then I think Biden wins.

        • KarenJ503 says:

          Joe Biden has already told the chattering class “it depends on his behavior” — speaking of whether he’d accept a debate with Trump.

          All Ol’ Joe has to do is tell Trump again “will you shut up, man?” like he did in October 2020, and watch Trump go into a spittle-fleck tantrum on stage.

        • Ciel-babe says:

          I agree Rayne would rock out DebateMeister – in part because it would be back to the original debates, run by the League of Women Voters. My mom was part of that team. It was fascinating: how moderators were selected and trained, the questions, the audience. Then the parties realized people were paying attention and took it all over – why tolerate the LWV controlling everything when they could pack the audience, stack the questions, and pick moderators they assumed would roll over? I miss the LWV debate days. And now the ultimate: why bother to show for debates at all? Wondering if this round will shake up the system in the future.

          moderators: hoping my sorting of internet cache has turned up my home email etc and not other family members’, and the exact username. I grovel. I note my info right now on paper in case I comment again instead of sticking to lurking

          [Moderator’s note: SECOND REQUEST: You’ve posted as “Mgallopavo”, “mgallopavo”, and “Ciel babe” (no hyphen) under two different email addresses. If “Ciel babe” is now your new username, please be sure to use it exactly as you’ve typed here (letter case and space matters) and with the same email address each time you comment. Make a note of this username somewhere as it is not up to us to keep track of it for you. /~Rayne]

        • Ciel babe says:

          done – will tell the hub he has to use the other home email address and stick w/ a username (that was probably mgallopavo comments) if he ever goes off lurk again. thank you for all the work it takes to keep this site running

        • Rayne says:

          Oh no, I would be a poor debate moderator. I would insist on shock collars like those used on dogs to train them not to bark.

          DJT: “I have a great relationship with the blacks–” *GZZZZT!*

          Me: “I’m sorry but that’s untrue. Try to rephrase your response.”

          DJT: “I cherish women–” *GZZZZT!*

          Me: “I’m sorry but that’s untrue also. Try to rephrase your response in this third and final attempt.”

          DJT: “I have so many fabulous friends who happen to be gay, but I am a traditionalist–”

          Me: “We’ll let that pass so long as the audience understands by ‘traditionalist’ you mean you’re a fucking homophobe. Next question…”

          It might be Must-See TV but not a debate. LOL

        • chocolateislove says:

          Hillary was in a lose-lose situation. You think she projected weakness because she didn’t react to DJT. But if she had, it would only have reinforced all the talk of her being a shrew and a bitch. And somehow it is Hillary’s fault that DJT was an asshole in that debate.

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        • Molly Pitcher says:

          Funny, I didn’t take away weakness on the part of Hillary, I took away sociopathic predator on the part of Donald.

        • pH unbalanced says:

          Totally agree that it was probably a lose-lose situation. Clinton certainly believed at the time that if she had reacted forcefully, it would have been interpreted as you suggest (and she knows her critics pretty darn well). But with hindsight I think she has said that being forceful would have been less bad — but we’ll never know. It would have upset different people for different reasons.

          Interestingly, it didn’t affect *my* opinion one way or the other because I listened to the debate on the radio and so was unaware of the whole thing in real time. Which is why I remember that there was a big skew in impressions of the debate — people who listened to the audio thought that Clinton was the clear winner and people who watched it with the video thought that Trump did much better (can’t remember if he “won” or “tied”). That’s how you know that his tactic was effective.

      • Yargelsnogger says:

        I would love to see a debate. But we need debates that are policed, not moderated. If a candidate veers off topic, makes personal attacks, etc their time should drain away quickly. If the question was about Iran policy, they must explain their Iran policy, and critique their opponents on rebuttal.

        The modern debates of shouting over each other, never addressing any actual issue and falling back to sound bites is a waste of time. Biden should push for a structured (and refereed debate) and refuse anything else. I can’t image Trump would ever be able to handle a proper debate, so for this election there is probably no point.

    • Harry Eagar says:

      It’s the teeveeization of the news. Lincoln didn’t debate in 1860, for all that he had debated when running for Senate.

      For those who think debates help voters make better choices, recall that Lincoln lost that contest to a smarmy defender of slavery.

      Memories of the 1960 debates give teevee journalists a frisson of influence that they do not really have.

    • Philip Munger says:

      Just as the SOTU speech shut the press up on Biden being incapable of giving a cohesive public formal address, let alone such a stirring and somewhat uplifting partisan counterattack as he delivered, I’ve a hunch that Herr Trumpf will come off simply awfully in a Presidential debate, and the comparison between the two will benefit the current President. However, I too have reservations about giving TFG any even-footed platform, as he doesn’t deserve one.

      • Rugger_9 says:

        See my note above. The moderator would hopefully be even-handed but I have zero doubt that the RW executives that run the networks will ensure the moderator keeps the horse race alive no matter how many lies Individual-1 tells (without moderator challenge) or how antisocially Individual-1 behaves.

        Frankly, it will be doubtful if Individual-1 is coherent at all given what I’ve seen in rallies over the last month alone.

        Biden, on the other hand will be scrutinized for any little slip-up. Bothsidesism, everyone.

    • trnc2023 says:

      I don’t usually see much interaction between the candidates during debates. It’s almost always just interaction with the moderator. In fact, the first DT/Biden debate probably had the most “interaction” I’ve seen in a while, and yet it was vastly less informative than the most vanilla debate with pat answers than any of us have ever seen.

      Debates made sense before the Internet came along. Maybe primary debates still serve some purpose, but the general election debates should be retired.

  4. PensionDan says:

    In the last 2020 Presidential debate in Cleveland, wasn’t it also the case that Trump had tested positive for Covid (and then had a negative test result on a rapid test)?

  5. Bob Roundhead says:

    Remember how mark meadows said trump tested positive for COVID two days before the second debate and broke the rules requiring negative testing 72 hours before the debate. He then yelled at Biden the entire time. Three days later he was hospitalized. Don’t know if it’s a crime to try to infect your political opponent with a potentially deadly virus, but it should be.

  6. Kalkaino says:

    Biden should address the nation and agree to debate Trump ‘only when and if he returns all the classified documents he stole.’ And he might also throw in ‘Our policy is not to negotiate with terrorists.

    • CovariantTensor says:

      Only problem with that is it feeds Trump’s narrative that Joe Biden is personally pursuing the classified documents prosecution.

    • originalK says:

      It’s April 16 – Let’s start out with a small jab about why Trump doesn’t voluntarily release his tax returns? Modern bipartisan tradition and all…

  7. P J Evans says:

    The COVID attempt in 2020 and the looming behind Clinton in 2016 say he can’t play by any rules other than his own. The media outlets are NOT learning from what he’s done in the past.
    If they insist on debates, give someone reliable a shutoff switch for the former guy’s mike.
    ETA: shut off his mike at 1 minute, anyway.

    • CovariantTensor says:

      There’s always a reliable shutoff switch, called an audio console. It’s just a matter of how it’s handled and who makes the decision. A hard time limit and only one mic open at a time would be a good policy..

      • Bears7485 says:

        I agree, though the problem is that Trump is a loudmouth bully and would still manage to disrupt Biden’s time.

  8. P-villain says:

    It’s all about ratings and clicks. Sure, there are diligent, talented journalists at these media outlets, but they’re not the ones calling the shots or writing letters like this. I have a hard time accepting that any serious person sincerely believes that debates are essential to this election.

    • Alan_OrbitalMechanic says:

      I always wondered why they called them “debates” in the first place. They look nothing like the types of debate formats you would find practiced in university level curriculum.

      At best they just look like joint interviews conducted by the “moderator” who is powerless to challenge lies and misrepresentations and deflections. The “debaters” basically try for the best sound-bite they can while the moderator does his/her best at both-siderism.

        • SteveBev says:

          Trump is “A No-Good Boyo up to No Good”
          and not just with Polly Garter in the wash-house,
          but every which way and loose.

          To debate in person and publicly is to concede, publicly, that the other party is to be trusted to conduct themselves in good faith.

          No serious person should grant to Trump even the hint of such approval. His lack of integrity, manipulative anti-democratic attitudes and behaviour, make him unfit for the office he seeks, and no concessions, which suggest in any way that he is worthy of election, should be given to him at all.

      • chocolateislove says:

        The media wants the eyeballs. The 2016 and 2020 debates brought them a huge audience and they are hoping for that again.

        I’m with P-villian. I have a hard time believing that a debate would help anyone make up their mind that close to the election.

    • BobBobCon says:

      “It’s all about ratings and clicks.”

      No, that’s wrong. Trump was good for ratings in 2016. He’s hurting them now.

      People are burned out on Trump, it’s showing up in TV ratings, in online audience numbers, and in GOP turnout.

      Too many liberals think it’s the ultimate insult to news execs to portray them as greedy. But the fact is they are not even rational economic actors. There’s a huge helping of dumb, lazy, sympathetic to conservative causes and blinkered to go with whatever greed is involved.

      There’a a reason why the market for TV political ads has flatlined this year as documented by industry press like Ad Age, or Sinclair Broadcasting’s miserable stock results. People are treating Trump 3.0 like later seasons of The Apprentice.

  9. John B.*^ says:

    The Covid point is a really good one and one people should be reminded of but David frum in the Atlantic argues this morning why would Biden give TFG the benefit of the stage and the false framing of equality between a former president* and a current president? He is an insurrectionist and tried to overthrow the government and assert his views and to stay in power by violence, threats and attempted murder. Biden does not owe him a stage and a debate. I agree with this view.

    • RipNoLonger says:

      Agree. No need to legitimize the insurrectionist.

      I also wish that the President could tell all these MSM caterwaulers to pound sand. I know that’s not his style, at least in public.

  10. Mattski_CHANGE-REQD says:

    Why invite someone to a debate when that person has a demonstrated track record of a) contempt for democracy b) shameless lying and c) criminal behavior? Calling for debates is willfully pretending that a mortal threat to democracy is nothing of the sort. 2016: “I will accept the results of the election, IF I WIN.” And that was just for starters.

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    • mattski-was-me says:

      Will this do?

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  11. Cid_16APR2024_1147h says:

    Right wing media goes to great lengths to create the appearance of legitimacy. They want to launder stories from the fringes through other media outlets which have more influence.

    Trump is much the same. He will lie and distort stories in order to advance his desired framing, one that papers over the authoritarian policies he would implement. Giving him equal standing with Biden only gives him more appearance of legitimacy. It’s a mistake to agree to debate Trump.

    Giving equal time to bad-faith BS sends the message that BS is expected and accepted in politics.

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    • misnomer bjet says:

      “ to launder … through other media outlets which have more influence … lie and distort stories in order to advance … desired framing … that papers over the … policies [and] implement“ them.

      Yes. But for example, Bill Barr’s political goals in all the papering over he’s done, are not to be bossed by an imbecile, much as some news execs might like us to believe that.

  12. Max404Droid says:

    Rachel Maddow nailed it … see this clip.

    First part: the story of Barr‘s interference in the DOJ investigation that led to Cohen‘s indictment, but not Trump‘s. Second part: how Trump used the press (the gutter one, the NatEnq) to manipulate the electorate. Her report wraps up with how these two threads come together, oh so many years later, in the current NY trial.

    She is a „popular“ journalist but she does her job of explaining and not just regurgitating.

    • FiestyBlueBird says:

      Yes. Marcy wrote awhile back about why isn’t the media making the point about how corrupt the DOJ was under Trump. Maddow, at least, has now done that.

      Repetition of this point in additional media outlets would be a good thing.

        • FiestyBlueBird says:

          Maddow’s style can be annoying. But she wasn’t wrong in that segment.

          Maddow’s not enough. Not even close.

          Repetition is effective with disinformation.

          It might be effective with true information, if many different media were making the same point. Maybe. Dunno. I’d like to believe it would be.

        • misnomer bjet says:

          On “exposing the device,” Ruth Ben-Ghiat points to the reason for the lie (disinfo etc); “the political goals it serves.”

          As I read it, Maddow, a political journalist, rarely does her job by getting to the point, meaning in Barr’s case, covering policies his cover ups have quietly served. It’s about as informative politically as a police blotter.

          When political journalists DO politics, they mostly amplify the effect of RW tactical policies (racist & misogynist “devices” etc) far more than they report the conspicuously quiet political goals of these sources of disinfo who achieve them by thus evading THOSE arguments.

          There’s two levels of political goals; the international (fight for democracy) and the national: use it or lose it.

    • John Paul Jones says:

      Watched the first 10 minutes or so; my Maddow tolerance levels have been going steadily down over the years. But it raised a question for me: if Trump testifies (unlikely) would prosecutors be able to ask him, on cross, whether he ordered Bill Barr to slow-walk, or bury the federal case into these offenses? I’m assuming not, but it might be fun to see.

  13. pseudonymous in nc says:

    Drawing from Jay Rosen: they don’t give a fuck about the stakes. If they gave a fuck about the stakes they would be reporting on the stakes right now. They wouldn’t be thirsty for a mistrial in NYC; they wouldn’t be salivating at the idea of Aileen Cannon throwing out the Florida charges or him pardoning himself or getting the federal trials dismissed. They are messy Bs who live for drama.

    • BobBobCon says:

      Rosen’s been saying this for a long time, and from time to time he’ll pull up reminders from a decade or more.

      And what’s nuts is how badly odds-based politics turns out to be. It’s self defeating, often in a matter of weeks. The stakes matter, and it often turns out to be true in a far shorter period than pundits and execs focused on the odds can imagine, because so many of them are fundamentally dumb people.

  14. lastoneawake says:

    Debates are useful when we are unfamiliar with the candidates, and we need to hear more about their campaign positions.

    We know ALL about both candidates.

    And one of them is currently implementing his positions—while the other has none to speak of (dismantling democracy doesn’t count).

  15. The Old Redneck says:

    One thing makes this presidential debate different than any situation in recent memory: we’ve already seen these guys debate each other. This is not anything new. It’s a sequel.

    Even so, I’d welcome it on a few conditions. In my fantasy world, the candidates would be in soundproof booths. The moderator would have the power to cut their mikes if they:
    1) Stray off topic,
    2) Blow through the time limits, or
    3) Interrupt the other candidate when it’s his turn to speak.

    I’m not holding my breath expecting this to happen.

  16. Roy Brander says:

    I’m just crying and aching for Biden to take some test – any test. An SAT will do. Or whatever test the Air Force gives pilots, anything.

    Whatever the result – suppose Biden scores 800 on the SAT, well below average. He goes on TV, says ‘The SAT tests things that I haven’t had to study in decades, I haven’t done calculus in this century. So I got an 800. I’ll debate any Republican contender that can score at least 600 in a carefully-proctored exam following a drug test, as I took.’

    And that would be that.

    • Rayne says:

      Biden has already taken a test nine times and passed — 6 times he won a term as Senator, 2 times he won a term as VP, and once so far he won POTUS.

      During none of those times did he commit an act which either state or federal law enforcement believed to merit prosecution, nor did a grand jury indict him.

      Multiple tests passed, multiple times. There’s no good reason why Biden should legitimize and normalize an opponent who is a rapist and defamer, a real estate owner who violated renters civil rights, a thief who took national security documents. Trump’s taken the test as well and he’s failed repeatedly except for getting elected with a hostile foreign adversary/ies’ help.

      • RipNoLonger says:

        Agreeing to submit to a test just because the former failure of a president took a test is agreeing to wrestle in the mud with a pig.

      • synergies says:

        Hi Rayne,
        Just thought I’d chime in. I read this topic when it originally appeared. My instinct was to not reply.

        Having put some thought time in, from a 73 year olds perspective, Biden’s persona especially media wise, as long as I’ve known & seen it has been “he’s a fighter.” Simplified; to not debate trump would give the oligarch owned media, the “win.”

        Biden has far exceeded expectations. He’s a very, very good President with a very, very good 1st Lady. He can handle trump.
        Simplified WE have faith, good will knock out the evil.

        I honestly think Biden’s campaign should insist on a partition between the two of thick plastic bars. The kind like in a jail. At least to throw that out there before the debate. lol

    • Eichhörnchen says:

      Yes. Because when President Obama heeded “cries” to release his birth certificate, it laid the birther conspiracies to rest. /s

      • misnomer bjet says:

        Obama’s big mistake, aside from pissing though those first 2 years of democratic legislative majority singularly pursuing health rather than climate care, was second-guessing his instinct not to heed the “cries” for his literal grace to legitimize Faux News by agreeing to participate in a proposed first ever presidential debate hosted by Rupert Murdoch’s monstrosity.

  17. Clare Kelly says:

    Excellent, timely, and necessary column.


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    • gruntfuttock says:


      It would be like a scientist ‘debating’ evolution with a creationist. They don’t play by the same rules so it’s never going to work.

      Mind you, if we had a gunk tank over Trump’s head to dump on him every time he lied ;-)

  18. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Dare I say that these media organizations beg the question about whether there are suitable substitutes for Biden – Trump debates?

    These media organizations seem stuck in a time warp. Have they paid no attention to Trump’s recent speeches? Unlike Biden, Trump doesn’t debate. He doesn’t know how. Reasoned parry and riposte are beyond him. He can’t rally facts to support or oppose an argument, nor would he win by doing it. Instead, he lies, shouts, accuses, and manipulates emotions.

    Debates would merely play into the hands of Trump the performance artist. It would generate media clickbait, but not inform voters of what they do not already know or believe.

  19. HorsewomaninPA says:

    It would not be a debate. It never is, but Trump would turn it into a freakshow as he has done at every “debate” he has ever participated in.
    I agree with everyone else who has offered that the media would only be doing this for clicks and ratings, not for democracy.
    I also know that this country sorely lacks understanding about mental illness (not just cognitive decline, which TFG is exhibiting). It seems that the media organizations clamoring for a debate do not understand that he cannot control himself. He is unable to participate in a information-rich debate. It is not that he doesn’t want to – he literally can’t. There is no journalist that can control him and make it into an effective debate or anything you should be basing your voting decision on. We know what we need to know about him and how he will turn it into a mess with lies, baseless accusations, irrelevant tangents, name-calling and a variety of fascist dictator moves. Spare us!
    My advice to those media organizations – call and make an appointment with a psychiatrist who will meet with your decision makers / journalists who believe that a debate would be productive. Have the doctor come to a meeting and explain what psychopaths do, how they do it and how uncontrollable they are and how when journalists float the idea of having a debate, they are simply pawns being used by a psychopath who wants to return to the Oval office. He loves using people and he especially loves using people who are not even aware they are being used.

      • RipNoLonger says:

        That is actually a style that can be enforced by WordPress. All of the submitter’s comments were submitted using the HTML BR tag. In most modern web apps this would show up with an automatic line space. The BR could trigger an extra line instead of just a break within the paragraph. No fault to the submitter. Emptywheel is a wonderful example of an older blog that just keeps on delivering value.

    • originalK says:

      I really hope the Biden campaign does have a psych consultant, with knowledge of dementia, for insight into Trump’s psychiatric issues. I would leave it as an unspoken reason to decline debating him. When it comes to insight into Trump’s supporters and enablers though – in high places and everyday voters – I don’t think the psychiatric expertise actually exists.

      • algebraist says:

        This continued viewpoint drives me up the wall. You cannot diagnose someone by just looking at them! A medical professional has to spend time talking to said patient in a controlled environment, usually a one on one session.

        Staring at someone under three tons of tv makeup, under hot studio lights and pointing and yelling “he’s a psycho!” is about as effective a diagnosis tool as chewing bubblegum.

        • P J Evans says:

          It’s not that hard to see that he *isn’t* doing well; his speeches (such as they are) give it away.

        • originalK says:

          I’m not “just looking at” him – he’s constantly in the public eye and has been for years. I’m not holding myself out as a medical professional but they can diagnose plenty outside of a controlled office setting. Not to mention that they rely constantly on the instincts and interventions of others – as a simple example, research shows grandmothers play a role in earlier detection of a child’s autism. And finally – I am a knowledgeable critic of the field, and know that the research is lacking.

        • thequickbrownfox says:

          Way back when, and where I’m originally from, there is a saying; “That boy just ain’t right”

        • HorsewomaninPA says:

          We have far more evidence to sift through – a lifetime full, to be more than just mildly confident that Trump is a psychopath (DSM III) definition. From his days in NYC as a playboy and pseudo business man until his actions as part of his multiple legal woes there is a consistent pattern of behavior and communication approach. I have worked in the mental health arena and in a discussion with an experienced psychiatrist who confirmed what I see as pretty obvious, she told me that no interview could ever yield the body of knowledge we have about the consistency we see in Trump’s behavior. She told me that an interview can only provide so much evidence, but 50 years…that is extremely valuable and reliable. No one is pointing and screaming, “Psycho!” Observing and analyzing, yes.

      • misnomer bjet says:

        With regard to “supporters and enablers … in high places and everyday voters,” expertise in does exist. Social psychology is an academic field and there are all sorts of professionals in the area, ranging from alcoholics stemming at busy intersections with streetlights to directors & conductors of performance artists & desperado intellectual mercenaries with the skills of Vladislav Surkov.

        But I recommend Ruth Ben Ghiat’s piece to which a link was provided here, in a comment by ‘pluralist.’

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    • CovariantTensor says:

      Trump’s weirdness is on display for all thinking people to witness. No need for any professionals to break the Goldwater Rule. On the other hand, his loyal disciples wouldn’t care if he eats shit and barks at the moon.

  20. Matt Foley says:

    Biden should not debate him. Biden is the POTUS and should not lower himself to share a stage with a lying criminal who still says the election was rigged. They are not equal and should not be presented as such. Do not dignify the troll by giving him a microphone. Let the troll spread his lies on Truth Social which is now down to $22 from $79.

    • thewhitetiger says:

      There should be no debates for a host of reasons.

      Fewer and fewer people even remember how debates used to be conducted.

      There haven’t been decent debates since The League of Women Voters withdrew their support because of how they were being conducted.

      None of us should want Trump on a stage with Biden as if they are equal. They are not equal. One does not belong in ANY position within government at any level because of criminality and mental instability not to mention severe cognitive impairment.

      Trump attempted a coup. This is never happened before in the history of our nation.

      Nothing about this situation is normal.

      Nothing can be gained by a circus debate.

      Not only that, but the continual exposure of the citizens of this country and even the world to the malignant nature of Trump’s psychology is that the root of the problem.

      • misnomer bjet says:

        The question is not whether Trump and Biden are equal. This is RW framing. Authoritarian framing of the political as vapid power struggle; horse race nonsense.

        The question is not even whether policies & platforms of respective parties’ they represent are equal.

        The question is which parts of those represent good faith (participation) and how those which do can be publicly assessed, picked through & the best parts worked together into “needs” & “demands” of our “country” & “time” (as Rayne put it) being best met.

        How do debates, and any other means we might “imagine,” such as a good group of journos at ‘the 12,’ do their job MORE than they maintain & regurgitate false framing & other evasions which drown out, run from, avoid, & prevent that?

  21. Nighthowl says:

    I honestly miss the debates moderated by the League of Women Voters, and feel that unless the debates are held by them or another group outside the chambers of either political machine, it will be just another staged product.
    The debates held in the last 6 or so cycles have been increasingly craptastic, in my opinion.

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  22. Attygmgm says:

    Excellent post. Ordinarily, debates are all well and good. But that is in service of an election, the thing the former guy refuses to accept, and used the last debates to try to undermine and overthrow. Biden should refuse. Either outright or with conditions to the refusal. Such as Kalkaino’s proposal above to first return the classified documents. Add in, “and list the ones now missing. Explain who those went to and on what terms. Commit to accepting the results of the election. Disavow violence.” And on and on.

    The man tried to use the normal avenues of democracy to defeat democracy. It is foolish to expect him not to try to do so again if he is given the opportunity. Debate is for only those who believe in the electoral process.

  23. subtropolis says:

    My apologies for being OT. Has anyone noticed that the Walt Nauta transcript has gone missing at documentcloud? While searching for it i came up with three different links, all of which result in a blank page:

    However, in the comments to the recent post about this, Thorvold kindly posted a link to a PDF at courtlistener:

    This one works. It seems rather odd to me that three separate links at DocCloud have gone dry. (LawFare’s recent post about this shows a blank where it’s meant to be embedded.) Has anyone an idea why this might be so? Have i missed something?

  24. Savage Librarian says:

    One day when Covid was in full force, I had a need to check the electrical meter outside my house. Simultaneously as I approached it, a woman with serious mental health issues, who wanders the neighborhood, happened to be passing by with a kitten trailing her. Our eyes met.

    Then she hollered, “Are you CRAZY?”

    I nodded vigorously, indicating that yes I was. It seemed to catch her off guard. But she noticed that I was looking at the kitten. So she said, “Don’t you worry about that.” And they both continued on their way.

    I suspect the conversation may have been more animated had I answered differently. I doubt that it would have been productive.

    If there is a Biden-Trump debate, I don’t think it will be at all productive. It will be all spectacle. I won’t be watching it, that’s for sure. Not a healthy thing to do. I’ll already be annoyed that a fascist agitator is being given more free air time. Who needs it? Maybe a boycott is in order.

  25. Sussex Trafalgar says:

    The US hasn’t had true presidential campaign debates in a couple generations.

    Today’s presidential “debates” are infomercials for the benefit of the media televising the “debate”
    and for the base of hard core reality TV lovers from all political parties.

    One is better off having a decent glass of wine while cracking rocks and looking at crystals rather than watching an “infomercial debate.”

    • xyxyxyxy says:

      A true presidential debate from a few generations ago, the Tricky and JFK debate was, I may be exaggerating, a beauty contest between a young, sexy JFK against a guy who had a 5 o’clock shadow: “But the real lasting winner of that first debate was the medium through which most people experienced it: television.”

      • misnomer bjet says:

        Think about that though. Law is strange around the instrumental purpose of protecting press, speech, public forum, and private words. Too often framed as irrelevant to that purpose. The ‘archaic’ meaning of ‘commerce’ included something more like conversation, circulation of ideas & information, which might explain why broadcasting law was created under the (interstate) Commerce Clause; same used to win Heart of a Atlanta (civil rights), in which that meaning was ‘irrelevant.’

        Public forum law seems to have been sequestered by comparison (think Selma). I’m not sure how it works in DC, but I bet most Americans have never been there.

        I also think moves made when Floyd protests made it there, were part of the planned preparations for J6 (the birds, little green men, horsemen in Lafayette Park, attempt to stage ‘antifa’ violence, dragging Milley into flanking Trump -in a stunning photo, marching to the upside down bible event) were designed to intimidate Pelosi & Browser into doing exactly what they did, in response. This was IN FACT, the excuse deployed afterward, by someone at military admin, for Nat’l Guard delay on J6.

        There ARE laws governing TV news, through which presidential public debates — and that rare sense of ourselves as a nation, together, in real time, AT that rare semblance of national public forum, that so many of us who will never make it to DC -can- attend, & participate in.

        But no such laws apply to ‘social’ media. Is that where ‘we’ want to go in response to this long downgrading & ‘final’ intimidation directed at presidential debates?

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        • misnomer bjet says:

          Ugh, so sorry. I promise to triple check that before send from now on. Seems to be one of those shifty spelling automiscorrect bleeps the second you look away. Spellcheck was nice on a leash, always killed it on new phones, but it’s like a zombie vandal now. Irritating AF.

    • RipNoLonger says:

      Thank you for that great piece by Thom. I’m really hoping the covers come off of all the machinations that Barr and others performed. So many times these miscarriages of justice are swept under the rug or forgotten in the spirit of “let bygones be bygones.” These were mortal attacks at the heart of our country. The perpetrators should be treated as mortal enemies.

        • Molly Pitcher says:

          Most definitely, but it is good to see it spread out loud, across the media, even if it is ‘inspired’ by Marcy’s work.

  26. paulka123 says:

    So, I was running through my Insta thread this afternoon, between puppy clips and funny memes I ran across a post of the comparison between the sun and the various celestial bodies in our solar system. Basic post to get one to contemplate the size of the solar system, the galaxy, the universe. Well, the simple post had various arguments going on between flat earthers and people who believe the sun and moon are the same size (?). All sorts of, I’ll be kind, uninformed opinions. The debate brought in anti-vaxxers, people who thought covid was a hoax, anti-evolutionists.

    It was quite depressing, yes this is a small sample of people, but it strikes me that this is not a fringe any more, that anti-intelligence is a movement of strength, people who fanatically believe in the religious myth as fact (no offense to the believers intended-I am referring to those who speak in tongues and believe that Noah’s ark actually happened and the bible is a history book). These people are ignorant and stubborn-a dangerous brew.

    These people (and I hate that term) hold outsized power and I have no concept on how to reach them. They don’t live in a world of facts and reason. I cannot speak their language so to speak.

    So, while the powerful debate the merits of debates that will do absolutely nothing to impact the election results, the true problem is a proud and ignorant population who are fact phobic. And these people are increasingly armed, angry, and believe in a god-given right to power.

    • xyxyxyxy says:

      Since you mentioned armed, they were ready to bring weapons from a Virginia hotel to the Capitol on a boat on J6, a la GW crossing the Delaware 250 years ago.
      Armed, Angry Loonies that we hire as teachers of our children, law enforcement officers and defenders of the US and allies.

  27. paulka123 says:

    Can anyone recollect one single specific thing from the Pence-Harris debate other than a fly?

    Debates are pointless.

    Biden should say, no, I am not going to debate a rapist and leave it at that.

    • Rayne says:

      Because the MAGAts would squeal Trump wasn’t prosecuted for rape and wallpaper media with their bleating to that effect, a better response by Biden would acknowledge what they can’t defend. Biden should say given the demands on Trump’s time multiple criminal trials pose, Biden doesn’t want to place another burden on Trump’s schedule with debates.

      Clearly appearing in a courtroom exhausts Trump, and he’s only just started his first criminal trial this week. Heh.

      • Matt Foley says:

        Trump wasn’t prosecuted for rape.
        Fox wasn’t found guilty of defaming Dominion.
        Nixon was never indicted.
        OJ was acquitted.

        But Biden is a criminal mastermind. On the days he isn’t a demented drooler. Or something.

      • CovariantTensor says:

        On the You Tube show Ben Marsalis does with Michael Cohen, the nick name “Don Snorleone” came up. It wasn’t clear who was taking credit for it.

    • ExRacerX says:

      For me, the fly was the star of that debate and a gift to comedians everywhere.

      Harris did well, mind you, but that pesky fly single-mindedly concentrating on Pence’s head made a point decorum didn’t allow her to: The 2020 Trump/Pence ticket stank to high heavens.

    • misnomer bjet says:

      That we citizens who attended were all physically gathered to participate in our (necessarily social) democratic (info exchange & consideration) process with our leading official reps at the same place & time, having a shared sense of ourselves as a real unit together. That.

  28. Zinsky123 says:

    First, having a “debate” with Donald Trump is like discussing existential philosophy with a carnival barker. You will only be covered in the moron’s spittle and no meaningful information will be exchanged. Trump knows nothing. He reads nothing – except maybe the shrink wrap on the latest Stormy Daniels video. He is a blank slate and repeats himself like a broken record. One linguist commented that he has a vocabulary of the average fifth grader. Joe Biden shouldn’t waste his time engaging with this loser and keep getting out and mingling with the common people, which is what he is, and let Trump disintegrate in the cold light of the law.

  29. Henry the Horse says:

    The President should absolutely not debate Trump, and he doesn’t have to take the L for it either.
    He should just say “why would I debate someone who doesn’t believe I am the legitimately elected President of the United States. If Mr. Trump would like to request a debate with the sitting President, I will entertain the offer “.

    I also agree that for a long time these debates have been meaningless.
    It’s like watching a boxing match where one fighter circles the ring throwing jabs and uppercuts while the other fighter is in the corner beating the shit out of the turnbuckle.

    • Kimtoomilw says:

      Biden: I’ll debate you on one condition: publically admit that I am the President of the United States.

  30. xyxyxyxy says:

    Debates “played a vital role in every presidential election of the past 50 years, dating to 1976.”
    How did they decide on only 50 years? Was nobody paying attention before then?

  31. MsJennyMD says:

    Quotes from the final debate in Nashville, TN on October 22, 2020.

    Trump: “If he is elected, the stock market will crash.”

    Biden: “The idea that the stock market is booming is his only measure of what’s happening. Where I come from in Scranton … the people don’t live on the stock market.”

  32. LesNoyes says:

    I ‘d like to see Biden come with an air horn. At Trump’s first interruption, Biden sounds a big blast. Then he holds up the horn any time he’s speaking.
    That or insist they be in separate rooms or that the person not speaking has his microphone turned off. (Would be fun to watch Trump shouting soundlessly while Biden is speaking.) Plenty for the circus-addicted media to seize upon.
    The questions are almost meaningless; the media and the hard-of-thinking just want fireworks.
    Biden could have a great time making fun of Trump. “Oh YEAH? Well I have a million-trillion of them, so there!” The possibilities are almost limitless.

  33. SteveBev says:

    One way to address the media clamour from ‘the 12’ and others would be to create a new format
    EG a Town Hall style Q&A of the candidates individually, populated by an audience comprising teams of hosts/journalists/contributors from those Organisations and others (OAN , Newsmax, independent journalists) and moderated by a national figure (say Liz Cheney)

    Biden would do well in such a format, and would demonstrate his capabilities to discuss policy issues and deal with hostile questioning from MAGA inclined elements of the studio audience.

    Trump’s inadequacies would be exposed and I imagine he would decline to subject himself to a like process.

    This type of arrangement would deal with allegations that Biden was afraid to be confronted with interrogation from the MAGA wing of popular opinion and media.

    I appreciate that the suggested format might be fanciful, but Presidential debates are tired rather than tried and true, and are particularly inapt in the present moment where one candidate is devoid of good faith, and undeserving of a place on a stage for face to face debate.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Yes, the current format removes all the debate and allows contestants just to deliver canned talking points. That’s a press release with barbs, not a debate.

  34. CovariantTensor says:

    ” Why wouldn’t you instead pursue aggressive journalism to tell more of these stories?”

    I’m in favor of both. I think there should be a public debate. I don’t watch them, they make me cringe. I content myself with morning after “highlights”. But I think the public feels entitled to them. In particular, I think if Biden declines, for whatever reason he gives, it will hurt him.

    But the MSM should absolutely be telling these stories, much more aggressively, and stop framing Trump as just another GOP candidate with some policies he wants to propose in good faith. He was found liable for rape, he did participate in an attempt to overturn the results of an election to stay in office, leading to a riot he watched on TV and did nothing to stop. It’s not just the criminal indictments that are “unprecedented” (I wish there were another word, we’re becoming numb to it) it’s the behavior itself. A decade ago we would not be having a conversation about a person like this being elected, for the second time, to the highest office in the land.

    • SteveBev says:

      1 MAGA will always cast Biden disdain of Trump as cowardice

      2 Biden debating Trump will always give Trump a seal of approval normalising him

      3 2 is much worse than 1

      4 Biden would be restricted in debate from a full throated demolition of Trump’s ethics and unfitness for office, because Trump is a criminal defendant in various proceedings and Biden rightly should avoid commenting about the substance of matters to be considered by juries.

      5 Trump would not show any ethical qualms, and would scatter shot all the tropes of the disinformation campaigns he and MAGA have fomented

      6 4 and 5 are added to 2 and cumulatively greatly outweigh 1

      7 Taking the moral and ethical high ground and disdaining Trump as wholly unethical and unworthy of debate is by far the better course. And strong statements of the precise reasons why that is so, which are framed in ways which do not infringe 4 is the way to communicate the position.

  35. misnomer bjet says:

    There has been a long parade of arguments against acknowledging the existence of a whole raft of policies under the Trump administration, or ‘legitimizing’ the fact that would reoccur if Trump were re-elected, by giving Biden a debate platform through which to convey it & slay Trump —and down ballot Rs, on how bad they were.

    None of those arguments changed my mind as to the importance of re-centering policy goals & records in election cycle news coverage and at debates.

    I thought Hillary Clinton and her campaign ‘strategists’ were making a grave error in 2015 & 2016 that risked losing the election when they went that route of focusing on Trump, rather than GOP policy record & goals (which were in the tank), and I still think that is why she lost.

    Setting the functional practice of democracy aside in order to save democracy doesn’t work, it’s either ON, or the existential threat to democracy already won.

    • SteveBev says:

      Televised Presidential Debates are NOT
      ‘•the functional practice of democracy•’

      They are at best one possible tool in the array of devices available to candidates to communicate with the electorate and it is a tool which has over time been blunted, bent out of shape and rotted. It is also a tool which serves to distort and conceal the political issues at stake at least as much as it reveals something real and valuable about the competition.

      Consigning this device to the scrap heap is not to throw away an essential element of democratic practice. There are real attempts by MAGA and other Republicans to undermine essential elements of democratic practices- to delegitimise voting methods, intimidate and suppress voting, and control poll counts by intimidation of count workers and disinformation about the accuracy of counts, and threatening violence and insurrection. In the face of that, your complaint seems, uh, misplaced.

      • misnomer bjet says:

        Do you recall, in watching video of J6 on that day, being struck with the tragic irony that some -probably many, of those people who first wandered into the rotunda were clearly awed, amazed, like they’d never been there, the sense of surreality in observing their sense of surreal experience, their double-take, taking the place in; that sense of surreal tragic irony in that, only because they were led to believe they had to FORCE their way in, here, of all places?

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