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May 16, 2021

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The pros and cons of giving every candidate his chance to speak

Just because you announce your candidacy for a serious office doesn’t mean you should be taken seriously.

But if you are part of a serious (we hope) television program, how do you separate the serious from the unserious?

That’s the conundrum confronting the “Face to Face” team as the silly season already has reached an unusual intensity with more than a year to go and so many folks seem primed to take advantage of what they see as a toxic Campaign 2010 for incumbents, most of them Democrats.

I raise this issue because we have spent the past two weeks interviewing some of the lesser-known opponents of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Rep. Dina Titus — some who seem to have no obvious qualifications for the jobs.

So is it our role to block access to these people because we conclude they have no chance to win, thus contributing to a self-fulfilling prophecy? Or do we give all of them their Warholian 15 minutes (actually we provide one and a half times that) and give the public an opportunity to see exactly who these candidates are? Or, perhaps, is there a middle ground?

We don’t want to pander to the folks who have taken the rabbit ears off their televisions and taped them to their heads, those who spend most of their time posting offal on blogs or trying to tune in Pluto. But nor do we want to be so elitist and exclusionary that we take only the moneyed candidates or the incumbents, thus depriving some who might be stellar elected officials of access to the airwaves.

Also, this is shaping up as a strange year, with predictable outcomes an oxymoron. Reid would be a Dead Man Walking if not for his war chest and the crowded GOP field that may prefer cannibalism to the fruits of victory. And Titus, who was lifted to Congress by the Obama wave in ’08, probably (just a guess here) can’t count on a Reid wave (even with two of them on the ballot) in ’10.

As the national Democratic agenda has come under assault and the president’s numbers have dropped, fueled by teabaggery and fury, many folks out there see an opportunity and thus have animated their candidacies with vitriol directed at ObamaReidPelosiTitus.

So we have decided — for now — to allow the ones who actually are running campaigns to have their shot on “Face to Face.”

The results have been occasionally surprising but generally frightening.

The dumbing down of politics and the willing symbiosis between candidates and the public — I’ll say something meaningless but appealing and you nod and vote for me — has been a personal hobbyhorse for years. By excising nuance and taking advantage of the electorate’s childlike attention span, politicians can commit to nothing and then be on the hook for little once they are elected.

We have seen that this week and last with some of the hopefuls seeking to take Reid’s place or Titus’ seat. It’s not “no new taxes,” but cries of socialism or a return to the Constitution or too much spending or government takeovers. Blah, blah, blah.

If it’s not the Republican National Committee talking points of the day, it’s some variation thereof. Makes one wonder if there is any such thing as an original idea left in politics.

There have been pleasant surprises. For instance, Wall Street’s John Chachas may be the most senatorial of any of the GOP hopefuls. If only he lived here.

But the nadir of this experiment came Thursday when Mike Wiley, a former talk show host, was explaining why it was only logical that UFOs existed. I asked him if he had seen one. Yes, he had. I asked him if he had ever been taken on one. No, he replied.

From spirited “Face to Face” interviews last year with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to this? Do you feel my pain? One of the crew said he expected Ashton Kutcher to appear any moment and tell me I had been Punk’d. I wanted to commit hara-kiri on the air.

On the other hand, what if Wiley, who used his media savvy to force a runoff in a 1994 Senate primary in Florida, were to somehow gain traction? Didn’t we have a duty to expose him?

At some point, you have to draw the line — and we have chosen that point as one year before the election. We will set standards for all the contests — U.S. Senate on down.

Some will say they are arbitrary. Some will say they are unfair. But I assure you they will be … serious.

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