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Moyers: How Money and the Media Are Shaping the 2012 Elections (And Why You Should be Watching the Fox News Debates)

Bill Moyers talks with media critic Kathleen Hall Jamieson about money in politics, the media's missteps and the way the GOP's jeers shape debate results.

Editor's note: The following is a transcript of a Bill Moyers interview with media critic Kathleen Hall Jamieson about money in politics, the media's missteps and the way the GOP's jeers shape debate results. Check out the website for Moyers' show Moyers and Company here. 

BILL MOYERS: Kathleen [Hall Jamieson] is an accomplished author, analyst, and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Among Annenberg’s projects are two websites I consult every day -- and -- both of which have the admirable if nearly impossible goal of keeping politicians on the straight and narrow, or at least factually accurate.

Kathleen, welcome.


BILL MOYERS: You and I have watched a lot of debates over the years. What do you think is different about these from all those we've watched?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The debates this year have a downside that I find very worrisome. The upside is they've done a very good job sequentially vetting alternative Republican candidates. But by permitting audiences to cheer and jeer and boo they have created a context in which the viewer at home is not watching the candidate and responding to the candidate, but is instead responding to the interaction between that candidate and an audience.

It pushes us as viewers back into a spectatorship position as opposed to an engaged viewer position. And I'm concerned that when you hear cheers and boos you are being cued to response to the question and the answer in a way that doesn't let you, yourself, reflect on the meaning of that answer. And simultaneously you're minimizing the likelihood you're going to actually remember the answer.

If you go to we've done a series of pieces to show that. And we've basically said, "Let's listen to the piece in which you've got the cheering and booing. Now let's listen to it without. In which one do you hear the answer more clearly? Which one are you more likely to remember?"

And there's one more thing that would worry me if I were one of those Republican candidates and if I were for example somebody for the Republican National Committee or somebody who wanted ultimately a Republican to be elected. I wonder about the moderates who are sitting in their living rooms watching. What do they think when they hear an audience boo a member of the military who says, "I'm gay"?

What do they think when they hear an audience ostensibly a Republican audience at a Republican debate booing Juan Williams when he asked the question about President Obama and the food stamps in relationship to a position that Speaker Gingrich had taken. What do you they think when they hear someone who doesn't have insurance and as a result might die and you hear somebody cheering and saying, "Yes, they ought to die." Now, those weren't the candidates. Those were the audience.

BILL MOYERS: So what did you think when Newt Gingrich announced after he was told that the audience would not be allowed to applaud, to be cheerleaders, he said, "Okay, then I'll not participate. I'll not participate." I'm summarizing what he said. "I won't participate unless there can be an audience there." What did you think about that?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I think that the advantage that Newt Gingrich has had in debates is an ability to play very effectively to the partisans in the audience. I think he is not understanding how some of those exchanges can come off to independents and moderates whom he would ultimately need were he the nominee and wanted to win the general election.

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