Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

5 Tips for Watching the Debates

Flickr user Paul Chenoweth

Presidential debate season is upon us—and nobody is happier than media pundits. Given a license to speculate, the talking heads will prognosticate from now until the final debate ends. But the debates are about more than who wins and who loses. In a campaign season marked by a lack of specificity, the debates provide the best view yet of the plans each candidate has for dealing with a slew of very real issues.

The First Amendment Center at the Newseum recently hosted a panel entitled, “Beyond Wins & Losses: a Citizen’s Guide to the 2012 Presidential Debates.” The team of panelists offered a few tips for how you can watch the debates—and avoid fixating on the most trivial elements of the contest.

Watch With a Notebook.

When you sit down to watch the debate, have a notebook and pen at the ready. Take note of the issues that stand out to you and the “facts” that require follow up research. We'll get to good sources for research in a moment

Invite Friends Who Don’t Agree With You

Yes, those friends. Invite them over. Set some ground rules on civility (no punching, bottling, or biting) and invite people of differing political views to watch the debates. Don’t experience the debates with only those who agree with you—you’ll get more from the experience by discussing what you’ve just seen and heard with people who have a different perspective.

Try Listening, Not Watching

Conventional wisdom holds that those who listened to the Kennedy-Nixon debate felt Nixon came out on top while those who watched on TV felt Kennedy was the victor—in part because Kennedy looked better. Since the very first televised debate, the body language of each candidate has played an increasingly bigger role. Instead of focusing on superficial visual details, try listening to the debates on the radio.

When It’s Over, Turn It Off

When the debate is over, turn it off. Make up your own mind about who was best before being sucked into the spin, consensus, and “narrative” building that occurs in the post-debate analysis on TV. If you were crazy enough to invite your partisan friends over, discuss it after you’ve taken a few minutes to process your own thoughts.

Post-Debate Follow Up

If you’re confused when it’s all over and need help getting the facts straight, try visiting the websites of a few fact checking organizations. Each is different and some have a particular bias—try these five:

How are you planning to watch the debates?

Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.