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Ready for real discussion of the issues?

In advance of the first presidential debate of 2008 on Friday, Media Matters' Action Network has a report out on the shortcomings of the presidential primary debates. It is also calling upon citizens to demand more discussion of the real issues facing America.

While much attention was given to the trivial questions asked in the final debate of the 2008 primary season, the problems with the debates went much deeper and highlight some of the broader weaknesses in the news media's coverage of the presidential campaign.

Simply put, the primary debates were a disaster. With a few exceptions, the media figures who moderated the debates focused on endless rehashes of campaign gaffes, pointless dissections of political tactics, and issues of personality. As a result, critical issues were pushed aside.  In fact, the vast majority of questions had little or nothing to do with the challenges facing the country and our next president.

Out of a total of 2,300 questions asked in 31 debates,

Only six touched on the growing crisis in the mortgage industry.

Only three mentioned the minimum wage.

Only two touched on the issue of declining wages.

Other critical issues were likewise given short shrift. There were 61 questions about abortion - half as much as all other health care questions combined. There were dozens of questions about oil prices, but only three questions about conservation and renewable energy.

There was only one question about warrantless wiretapping, and only two questions about the prison at Guantanamo. And there was not a single question about the administration's unprecedented use of signing statements, its dramatic claims of executive privilege, or its extraordinary secrecy.

Republicans and Democrats were equally subject to the parade of silliness. When not being forced to name their favorite Bible verse or take sides between the Red Sox and the Yankees, candidates were asked to comment on polls or political strategy. While some candidates got more substantive questions than others, almost all the candidates who were near the top of the polls found themselves answering mostly trivial questions.

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