It’s a circus of empty ritual, but we’re all going to focus on it anyway

I haven’t been updating as frequently as I would like and that’s partially because I’ve been in Denver with my students who were covering the debate between President Obama and Governor Romney.

Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say that my students were covering everything but the debate itself. They examined the impact of the debate on the surrounding community; they talked to the protesters whose issues were shut out of the national discussion; they spent time trying to track down advocates for the homeless to learn if Denver officials prepared for their time in the spotlight the same way that governments around the world usually do: by sweeping the homeless off the streets.

Even though my students did a very good job (in my opinion) of looking for the stories outside of the debate circus, it was still difficult for them to not get caught up in the hysteria over political and media celebrities. When we obtained credentials to cover President Obama’s rally on the morning after the debate, everyone was giddy about the fact that the media area (filled with big names like Chuck Todd and Jake Tapper) was just a few dozen feet from the Presidential podium. I had to remind them that we were surrounded by thousands of regular people, all of whom had relevant stories to share.

I suppose it’s not surprising that teenagers would be impressed by the presence of powerful, famous people, but what’s shameful is that the national professional news media experienced exactly the same reaction. Cable news outlets devoted their entire day to speculation about the debate, and then afterwards it was nothing but talk about what was said (and unsaid) in the debate with heavy doses of horse-race reporting.

Kudos to Democracy Now! for producing “Expanding the Debate,” a three-hour special that welcomed third party candidates and took a sharp look at the ways Republicans and Democrats have worked together to exclude third parties from the debate.

My students are already planning additional coverage for the VP debate at Centre College, the election itself, and the inauguration in January 2013. I’m looking forward to seeing what they produce.