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Presidential Debates by Alan Schroeder

Presidential Debates

by Alan Schroeder

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312552,747 (4.5)None
"Alan Schroeder sheds new light on every debate from 1960 to the present. From the selection of questioners to the camera angles, from issues of makeup to lighting and stage set, Schroeder shows how decisions are made that influence every aspect of what the audience perceives. The Presidential Debates: Forty Years of High-Risk TV takes readers on a backstage tour, approaching the debates within the framework of the fundamental steps to which TV producers adhere: preproduction, production, and postproduction. Calling upon behind-the-scenes stories from seven campaign seasons, Schroeder illustrates how the live component of the debates, far from diminishing dramatic potential, increases our anticipation - not least because of viewer curiosity to watch one candidate make a grave error and go down in flames."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)



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For political junkies, this is a great book. I have always been fascinated with watching the presidential debates. Schroeder does an amazing job of covering every TV presidential debate since Nixon/Kennedy. Every gaffe, and every crazy allowance made to candidates to get them to basically show up. After reading this book, I will never look at debates the same. I did not realize how contrived the whole process has become. Everything from the setting of the studio temperature, what the size of the podium is, whether or not a chair is provided, what lighting will be used to highlight the candidate the best, etc., etc. It is explained how the moderators are selected, never allowing someone who is deemed unfriendly. Even questions from the audience are screened by the moderator (who, remember, was prescreened themselves), and selected by the moderator. The whole process has been turned into a sideshow. Knowingly sidestepping questions, the "candidates attempt to impose their own story line through the use of calculated gestures, prepackaged sound bites, and audience-tested messages". And now, social media has become the prevalent way for candidates to get their message across. No longer do you have to listen to a long, boring debate, instead Twitter, Facebook, and Google will tell you the highlights, even tell you who won (before the actual debate has even concluded). The whole system has turned into an entertainment spectacle. Like a bad reality TV show. Social media has turned into a method to "a, look for comments that you agree with to shore up your position, b, looking for comments you disagree with in order to fight, and c, snarking on one or both sides because you're a funny guy". And the "mainstream media" is no better. "in each debate, reporters hope for an angle that will provide grist for the news mill; the best stories are those with a whiff of controversy and a prolonged shelf life". "Want to dominate the TV news? Unleash a zippy zinger or gimmick that can be recounted in 20 seconds (or 140 characters)." Which is exactly what we have been witnessing this election cycle, never mind any real discussion of the issues, simply come up with a one-liner (build a wall, etc), and you are guaranteed endless repetition on the news. "In its quest for a good story, the press glorifies colorful characters and punishes dullards. Sober-minded debaters operate at an automatic disadvantage in such a universe, where winning smiles and clever ripostes are the coin of the realm". This book makes me actually feel dirty. I'm very afraid of what has become of our nation, where people are just too busy to pay attention to issues, instead wanting reality TV show entertainment. Welcome to the Game Of Thrones, American Edition". ( )
  1Randal | May 26, 2016 |
Must See TV

Is it all style and no substance? Do television debates still matter? Who will win the Obama versus McCain debate and why? Well, maybe the last one was a stretch, but Alan Schroeder dissects this necessary rite of passage en route to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Schroeder is necessarily ambiguous on the influence of debate in persuading voters in November. While historically, a really bad performance can doom a Presidential campaign, Nixon and Dukakis come to mind. Other disastrous performances like in 1984 election where Reagan lost his debate soundly to Mondale, yet managed to survive given his insurmountable lead in the polls. Or a twitching, shifty, face-contorting George 43 who lost his debates to Kerry yet still managed to hold the office in 2004.

Leaving no stone unturned, Schroeder uncovers both the mundane but also the more fascinating aspects of debate preparation, coverage and aftermath. A few flubs that I had forgotten but were significant at the time include Kerry's slip in mentioning Cheney's lesbian daugther, and Carter's gaffe of his "alleged" conversation with his daughter on nuclear proliferation. And if you're wondering which Presidential candidate is in Schroeder's hall-of-fame? None other than Bill Clinton who he writes as a true "master at political theater".

No doubt the book is a encyclopedia of Presidential debates since the first one in 1960. If there is one critique of Schroeder, it is regarding his non-linear style. I'd venture that even for the avid political junkie, Schroeder's topical division of the book would still leave many heads spinning. For the neophyte, they would probably be lost amidst Schroeder's confusing time-warps he commits the reader to.

Overall, I highly recommend this book if you want to really know what goes into the television Presidential debates, especially significant with the highly engaging debates between Obama and McCain approaching. ( )
  bruchu | Sep 10, 2008 |
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Columbia University Press

2 editions of this book were published by Columbia University Press.

Editions: 0231114001, 0231141041

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