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Tom Cotton and Me.

If you care about these things, you know that last week I interrupted Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., during his so-called "debate" against three opponents in the race for U.S. Senate in order to ask him to actually address my question.

It was a mistake on my part, of course. I knew that my two fellow panelists and I would not be given time for follow-up questions, but I didn't realize that asking the candidate to address the original question was the same as a follow-up. I didn't realize that the candidates could ignore the questions with impunity. I didn't realize that the "panel of journalists" also needed to be in quotation marks, because as soon as the debate started, we were really just stage props.

When I learned, to my shame, what I had agreed to participate in, I ceased caring about the process. I just played my part, reading my second question on cue and silently fuming about the work I could have been doing for my paying customers.

The other candidates--incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, Libertarian Nathan LaFrance and Green Party candidate Mark Swaney--all veered off topic to some degree or other, but I didn't interrupt them. Nor did anyone else. Getting information is what we do when we're in journalist mode, but clearly not when we're just playing journalist so that the candidates can pretend to debate.

I know that the producers at AETN are doing their best, but debates in which the candidates can ignore the questions are a waste of time. I didn't learn one single thing about Cotton or Pryor that I didn't already know from the millions of dollars' worth of campaign and special-interest advertising that already made me feel dirty.

Which brings me back to the question that Cotton decided that he need not address: Is it a candidate's job to make sure that his campaign is not actively misleading voters? I thought it was sort of a softball. If you were a candidate for office, would you feel the need to sidestep that particular question?

I apologized personally to Rep. Cotton for breaking the rule. He was just the first of the candidates to blatantly ignore the question he was asked, and I would have loved to have called others out later. I didn't realize at first that I was required to be silent while a candidate substituted his stump-speech talking points for an answer, but once I knew the rule, I certainly didn't continue to break it.

Cotton generously told me not to worry about it. But some of his supporters were outraged, accusing me of being a media lib in the tank for Mark Pryor. (Or, according to the nonparticipants from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's editorial page, a badly behaved "partisan" who didn't know I was supposed to "just be there.") Rep. Cotton's supporters were so protective of him you'd think they didn't know that he had been to Iraq and could presumably handle something no more threatening than being rudely interrupted by a pipsqueak like me.

As for Pryor, I'm pretty sure my mistake in interrupting Cotton didn't lead him to believe that I've forgotten, or forgiven, his role in allowing his pay-day lender campaign donors to spend a decade preying on the most vulnerable Arkansans--unconstitutionally, as our then-attorney general certainly knew. (His record on that is so well-documented and damning that I wonder why the Cotton campaign hasn't pointed it out to voters. And then I think, well, I probably know why.)

After I abandoned any attempt to be a journalist for the balance of the 90-minute debate, I was able to enjoy the responses of the two "minor" candidates, LaFrance and Swaney. Since they haven't had millions of dollars with which to beat hapless TV viewers into a vegetative state, I learned heaps about their ideas and philosophies. Talk about contrasting visions for America.

Some people complain that including third-party candidates in the debates is a waste of time since they can't possibly win. I couldn't disagree more. I propose that AETN give each of the major party candidates five minutes of uninterrupted air time in which they can stare at the camera and say whatever they want. Then they should turn the rest of the time over to the Greens and Libertarians or other third-party candidates and commence with a real debate. That would be educational television.

Arkansas Business welcomes Letters to the Editors. Letters must be signed and writers must include their hometowns and contact information so we can confirm their identity. Letters are subject to editing for clarity, length, spelling and punctuation.

Letters may be mailed to Editor Gwen Moritz, Arkansas Business,114 Scott St., Little Rock, AR 72201; faxed to (501) 375-7933; or e-mailed to

Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG. com.
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Author:Moritz, Gwen
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Oct 20, 2014
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