Well, that was excruciating. The first hour of last night’s Democratic debate in Pennsylvania was devoted almost entirely to trifles (flag pins, phantom Bosnia snipers) and to Barbara Walters-style faux-intimate queries (George Stephanopoulos to Obama: “Does Rev. Wright love America as much as you do?”). If ABC had intended to stage a clinic on everything that’s wrong with mainstream political coverage, it could scarcely have done better. Perhaps you already knew that the cloying, avuncular Charlie Gibson is a dolt; now the whole country knows. (The Huffington Post has video of the crowd booing Gibson in the run-up to the last commercial break.)
The best take-downs we’ve seen so far this morning are from Steve Benen (“train-wreck, cover-your-eyes bad”) and Josh Marshall (“the moderators… were awful”). But only Minnesota Monitor has obtained the list of questions that time did not permit Gibson and Stephanopoulos to ask:
Gibson: There is ample evidence that the public is tired of all the partisan turf battles in Washington–all the red vs. blue, day after day. Are you prepared to tell the American people — here, tonight — that you will set aside the red and the blue and tell us what some of your other favorite colors are?
Stephanopoulos: Senator Clinton, if you win this nomination, you’ll be running against John McCain, a man who once joked at a Republican Senate fundraiser that the reason your daughter, Chelsea, was so ugly was that Janet Reno was her father. She was just a child then, an awkward teenager in braces. Do you take pleasure in the fact that, these many years later, she’s turned into a total hottie?
Gibson: Senators, let’s talk about white-collar crime. Your opponent John Edwards, before he left the campaign, spoke tirelessly of the need to rein in the depredations of corporate America. Tonight ABC News has learned that Martha Stewart, who spent time in prison for insider trading, has lost her beloved Chow, Paw Paw, to kidney disease. Surely that must move you at least a little? I mean, her dog died.
Stephanopoulos: Some media critics have bemoaned a growing conflation of politics and of celebrity media culture — a tendency, even on the part of ostensibly serious journalists, to see everything through the lens of personality and character and to ignore issues. My question for you is, what’s your most trusted source of celebrity news? And are there some celebrities who interest you personally more than others?
Gibson: A two-parter for you, Senators. If you were a tree, and that tree died, then a) what kind of dead tree would you be, and b) what would that dead tree say to St. Peter when it arrived at the gates of Heaven?