Liberals, conservatives ask for Internet-friendly debates

A coalition of people from across the political spectrum are asking the presidential candidates to commit to more open debates.

Stephanie Condon
Stephanie Condon Staff writer, CBSNews.com
Stephanie Condon is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.
2 min read

What can liberal commentator Arianna Huffington and Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich agree on? At the very least, that the presidential debates should be more Internet-friendly.

A diverse group of people and organizations that span the political spectrum have signed a letter calling for presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama to commit to more open debates in this election season. The letter makes two specific requests: footage from the presidential debates--which supposedly start Friday night--should be dedicated to the public domain. Also, "town hall" questions from the Internet should be chosen by the public via "bubble-up" voting technology.

Issued Friday, the letter's signatories include Craigslist.org founder Craig Newmark; Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales; Stanford law professor and copyright reform advocate Larry Lessig; the directors of MoveOn.org; Mitt Romney's former online director; Huffington; and David Kralik, the director of Internet strategy for Gingrich's organization American Solutions.

The debates should be in the public domain because they "are for the benefit of the public," the letter says. "Therefore, the right to speak about the debates ought to be 'owned' by the public, not controlled by the media."

While viewers have an array of options for commenting on the debates, from Twittering to participating in polls on MySpace's debate page, bloggers still need to be wary about posting clips of the footage online.

The letter points out that while ABC, NBC, and CNN agreed to release their video rights during this campaign season's primaries, FOX threatened legal action when McCain used some of its footage in a campaign ad.

At the "town hall" debate scheduled for October 7, the questions are already promised to be from the audience or people on the Internet--not the moderator. Even so, the debate organizers should choose the top 25 questions that "bubble up" on the Internet "to ensure that the Internet portion of this debate is true bottom-up democracy," the letter says. CNN's YouTube debates "put too much discretion in the hands of gatekeepers," the letter says, since producers chose which videos were shown.