Newton N. Minow: A Glimmer in the Vast Wasteland





Newton N. Minow, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission from 1961 to 1963, is the author, with Craig L. LaMay, of “Inside the Presidential Debates: Their Improbable Past and Promising Future.”

ON Wednesday night, President Obama and Mitt Romney will meet in Denver for our nation’s 28th televised presidential debate. The first was in 1960, when John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon squared off in Chicago. After he was elected, Mr. Kennedy told me he would not have not have won without the four debates that year.

The debates are an institution now, and among the most watched television events in America. They are one place in the modern campaign — perhaps the only place — where the voter is treated with respect. They are the one time when the major candidates appear together side by side under conditions they do not control. They are a relief from the nasty commercials that dominate the campaign, fed by donations that are effectively unlimited and anonymous. Broadcasters provide the television time for the debates, without commercials, as a rare public service....



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