Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Reflections on the WTTW, Channel 11 Republican and Democratic Gubernatorial Primary debates: winners, losers and media bias?

Links to short videos of questioning of McKenna, Ryan and Proft added at 2:00 pm on Wednesday.
There were several clear winners coming out of the last two nights of debates held by WTTW—Ch. 11, one of the two public TV stations in the Chicago metro area. Monday night the debate was for the Democratic nomination for Governor between Governor Pat Quinn, who moved into the position from Lt. Gov. in early 2009 when Rod Blagojevich was removed from office by the impeachment process. Tuesday night it was for the Republican nomination for Governor, with the candidates being Senator Bill Brady, Senator Kirk Dillard, businessman Adam Andrzejewski, former AG Jim Ryan and media personality/political consultant Dan Proft.

Winning format

The first winner was the WTTW format: No League of Women voters stuffy “we all take turns answering the same question,” with formalized time limits for the answers. No silly openings and closings. Much more of a conversation between the moderator and the candidates, and sometimes the candidates threw questions at each other, sometimes the moderator would follow up—sometimes the follow-up would be by the moderator of a candidate’s spontaneous question.

Carol Marin moderated on Monday night and Phil Ponce on Tuesday night. I can quibble with some bias in some of the questions and would have liked to see much more follow-up, especially by Marin. But, that is a criticism on the margin. Over-all, WTTW, Marin and Ponce get a big thumbs-up for a much better format than that of the League of Women Voters, which sadly has almost a monopoly on these debates. I understand one exception to that monopoly is the debate among the Republican Gov candidates which Thom Serafin moderated a few weeks ago in the western suburbs. I have not watched the video yet but have been told by many it was suburb, and like WTTW, its format was a free flowing, much less formalized conversation.

Winner Jim Ryan

The second winner was probably Jim Ryan. Putting aside the content of his and his competitor’s answers, the man just has a strong presence that commands respect both by his competitors and no doubt, the TV audience. [But, watch Ryan questioned by Berkowitz for four minutes on taxes- a little bit like trying to pin jello on a tree].

Winner Dan Proft

The third winner was Dan Proft. The polls, money raised and name recognition put Dan in the second tier in the Republican Gov Primary race. However, the consistency, logic and thoughtfulness of his ideas put him in the first tier. He also is developing a stronger presence and softening his hard edges. When the five candidates were asked who they would support if they couldn’t vote for themselves, Jim Ryan got two votes, Proft got one and there were two no votes. That vote by the candidate’s peers may tell us something. [But watch the sharp tongued Proft rip McKenna for two minutes for having been part of the dysfunctional IL GOP political establishment and for having accepted illegal campaign contributions]

McKenna, a big loser

The big loser of the evening was Andy McKenna, who was a no show. Phil Ponce reported that McKenna said he could not be there due to a conflict, i.e., McKenna was campaigning in Central Illinois at the time of the debate. However, Ponce noted that the invitations for the debate went out on November 13, 2009.

During the debate, McKenna’s opponents ripped him for his ethical violations as State GOP chair, which the Republican State Central Committee determined occurred and for which McKenna publicly apologized. McKenna was also ripped for not campaigning with the voters and for not showing up at other forums, as well. McKenna was further ripped for accepting illegal campaign contributions and not returning them. You wonder if any of McKenna’s opponents has the money to turn those debate segments into an ad blasting Andy. Ripping McKenna was perhaps the best example of the common ground reached by McKenna’s opponents. [Watch McKenna questioned for five minutes by Berkowitz and others-- this performance could be why his handlers kept him off WTTW last night].

Liberal media bias appears again?

The oddest part of the two debates was that on Monday night Quinn and Hynes both discussed their plans to raise taxes by about four billion dollars. Marin questioned them about the differences in their tax hike plans. And Hynes lamented that Quinn would not say he would support Hynes if Hynes won, with Hynes worrying about the cuts in spending the Republicans would make. Hynes noted that those cuts provided a good reason for Quinn to say he would support Hynes, if Quinn lost.

Quinn, in another part of the debate, defended his efforts to deal with the deficit, saying he had made the cuts he could make in spending, about 2.5 billion dollars and that he could cut no more. Hynes didn’t seem to differ with Quinn on that.

The question Marin omitted

So, why didn’t Marin say to both Hynes and Quinn, if the deficit is 13 billion dollars as they argue, and each would raise taxes by only 4 billion dollars, how would they fix that nine billion dollar deficit, without “hurting real people.” Borrow nine billion dollars? If not, make cuts of nine billion dollars? Wouldn’t that be a lot of pain? Marin never asked. Certainly she never pressed them on it.

But, Ponce led with that question

Yet, Ponce, on Tuesday night, virtually led by asking the Republicans how they could deal with that 13 billion dollar deficit “without hurting real people.” Each of the Republican candidates tried to discuss the cuts in spending that were necessary to deal with the deficit, and Ponce essentially belittled the responses. Of course, there was none of that on this issue by Marin with Quinn and Hynes.

I’m not saying there was liberal media bias in the different treatment of the issue by Marin and Ponce. I’m just saying.
More than 120 of our shows from the last two years are posted on the Public Affairs YouTube page . Now streaming are our most recent shows including a show w/State Senator and State Treasurer candidate Dan Rutherford (R-Pontiac); a Berkowitz exchange w/10th CD Republican Primary Candidate Beth Coulson [Clip from 2000] and Berkowitz exchanges with the Republican Primary Candidates for Governor; Pat Hughes (Hinsdale), U. S. Senate Candidate in the Republican Primary; Republican Primary Gov Candidate Dan Proft; Paul Vallas, Supt. of the Recovery School District of New Orleans; 10th Cong. District Republican Primary Candidate Arie Friedman, M.D. (R-Highland Park); Republican Guv candidate State Sen. Kirk Dillard(R-Naperville); Cong. Danny Davis; Patrick Collins, former Chairman of the Illinois Reform Commission;
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Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at