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Obama Rebuffs Google Debate as MySpace Logs On

Now that the Commission on Presidential Debates has announced its official moderators for the 2008 debates, it looks like MySpace is in and Google is out, according to Obama campaign officials who spoke with TWI. The Obama campaign has accepted three presidential debates, it says in an open letter, and declared these will "likely" be the "sole series of debates in the fall campaign." That implies rejection of a Google proposal — offered as a citizen-driven alternative to the TV debates where anchors frame and referee every interaction that the nominees have. When pressed on whether Sen. Barack Obama is flatly rejeting the Google debate, the Obama spokesperson Bill Burton told TWI:

My statement is the same as the letter states: the presidential commission debates will likely be the only joint appearances.

Bob Boorstin, a former Clinton administration who led Google’s debate operation, said the company had no comment on the Obama camaign’s position. Google had proposed an interactive event, like the YouTube primary debate, to be held in New Orleans with a focus on Gulf Coast recovery. It had bipartisan support from a slew of local organizations and politicos, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a GOP VP short-lister. The effort looked so strong, people were predicting the demise of the commission system.

"[The commission] is an idea whose time has come and gone," James Carville announced in April, telling the New York Observer that "Google and YouTube" were moving into a vacuum to give voters more of a say. YouTube had elbowed into the primaries with an assist from CNN — and vaulted a citizen question on direct negotiations with Iran into months of campaign sparring.

Today the commission announced it is partnering with MySpace to engage citizens, through a MyDebates.org social networking portal.

Letting the media handpick questions online, without oversight, is barely better than letting the media write every question. In fact, some of the most scurrilous questions in the ABC debate came from handpicked voters. For a more open process, the commission could post all citizen questions online; invite non-binding public voting, and publicly share its rationale for why it used certain questions. Debates are still the only time the public can directly assess both presidential candidates. More than 60 million people tuned in last cycle. Shifting more control from the media to the voters, for a single debate, would be a small step toward ensuring that the nation is actually part of the national conversation.

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