Editorial: WSB-TV just got played by Brian Kemp

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt November 1, 2018

Brian Kemp. Photo obtained via http://sos.ga.gov/

On Halloween, I thought my eyes were playing a trick on me.

There was a flurry of stories shared on social media about Republican gubernatorial candidate and Secretary of State Brian Kemp deciding to pull out of a previously scheduled debate with Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams and Ted Metz, the race’s token libertarian who thinks legal weed will fix everything.

Kemp claimed he had a scheduling conflict because President Trump scheduled a rally in Macon that conflicted with the debate. The idea that Kemp had no control over when this rally was scheduled is laughable. The appropriate response of any respectable news organization is to tell him the debate will move forward without him.

But instead of WSB-TV setting Kemp straight, the network bent over backwards in the 11th hour to see if Abrams would reschedule. At one point, the story was twisted by the Kemp campaign to make it appear as though cancelling the debate was Abrams’ doing. Keep in mind that Abrams has managed to schedule events with President Obama and Oprah (!) that didn’t conflict with the debate time. Does WSB-TV believe that President Trump and Kemp were incapable of rearranging their schedules to honor Kemp’s previous commitment? Please.

Let’s call this what it is. Kemp is chickening out. He’s trying to work the refs, so he can skip the debate because he is worried he has nothing to gain and a lot to lose. And he should be worried. The race is a statistical dead heat.

I’ve organized debates before and it’s always a challenge, particularly in local races. You do your best to get candidates to agree on a place and time, and you have to go with the place and time that’s convenient for the most candidates. In my experience, if one candidate insists they can’t attend a debate when every other candidate will be there, the candidate with the schedule conflict usually finds a way to make it work.

So, let’s do the math. Three candidates agreed to appear in a debate. One candidate at the last minute decided he had better things to do. But that still leaves you with two candidates who respect voters enough to honor their commitments. You hold the debate and let the candidate who skipped out suffer the consequences.

Or, if you’re WSB-TV, you move heaven and earth so one candidate can hold a debate on his terms and not yours.

We may have all forgotten, but that’s not how this is supposed to work. The media organization hosting the forum sets the rules, not the candidates.

WSB-TV backing down on the gubernatorial debate has got to be one of the most embarrassing displays of media weakness I have ever seen. You can’t have an honest conversation with an elected official or politician if they don’t respect you. If someone running for office can get you to cancel a debate simply because they won’t be there, then they will never respect you. If an elected official backs out of a previously made commitment to a debate and you have two other candidates ready to go, you don’t cancel the debate. You move forward and tell the candidate strong-arming you that they can either be there or the audience is going to see an empty podium.

WSB-TV is going to rue the day they did this. Now every other debate of note in this town is going to be subject to this eleventh hour politicking because of this precedent.

It’s a sad day for local journalism and it’s particularly disappointing for the three voters who are still undecided.

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About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

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