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Online, Next Presidential Debate Will Feature a Moderator that Wasn't

BY Micah L. Sifry | Thursday, October 11 2012

Five days from now, President Obama and Governor Romney will meet for their second debate at Hofstra University, answering voters' questions in a live town hall forum format.

For the last week or so, Google has been promoting a page called "Your Questions for the Candidates," encouraging users to post and vote on potential questions for the moderator to ask. More than 20,000 people have done so, some of them prompted by online advocacy campaigns by various groups.

The site announces:

"The Commission on Presidential Debates will give a selection of your questions to CNN's Candy Crowley, who will be moderating the debate and asking questions of the two nominees."

Unfortunately, this isn't really what is going to happen.

A high-level source in CNN's news department tells me that they are not taking questions via email, Twitter, Google Moderator or any other online source for the October 16th debate. Given the debate's town-hall format, where questions are going to be asked by a panel of undecided voters selected by the Gallup Organization, there really isn't a meaningful way to bring in questions from the online public.

When told that CNN had said that is was not going to be taking questions from Google Moderator, despite the boilerplate on Google's website, CPD co-chair Mike McCurry responded:

In the case of Crowley and the town hall debate, we will be happy to provide a list of curated questions from the Google exercise to Candy and her CNN team. They can do with it what they will. For example, the ranking of questions might help Candy decide which citizens to call on during the town hall ... however there is no guarantee of that. It's up to her.

Google spokeswoman Samantha Smith said in an email that the Moderator site was part of Google's contribution to the "Voice Of" initiative around the debates, and referred requests for comment back to CPD.

This is only the umpteenth time we've seen national political organizations, the news media and tech companies advertising an "unprecedented" merger of the Internet and traditional politics, only to discover that there's really no there there. Perhaps it's time for a new term for these encounters: political vaporware, when name-brand tech companies and media enterprises flash their brands at the public and promise a revolutionary new venture in digital democracy, and then no one really does anything serious.

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