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Debate thoughts

October 7, 2008, 10:55 pm | Posted by Dan Nejfelt

Agenda-setting theory, in a nutshell, is this — the media can’t control what you say, but it can control what you talk about. Debates are agenda-setting writ large. For 90 minutes, a very few people decide what topics the candidates will talk about in front of millions of viewers. There is great power in that. So, given the electorate’s justifiable concern with economic issues and the media’s understandable if not laudable preoccupation with the race’s day-to-day blow-by-blow, I find it heartening that two consecutive debates have had questions about genocide in Darfur. Framing the discussion around US military intervention surely gives short shrift to the nuanced approach Darfur demands, but forcing the candidates to talk about this issue that isn’t at the top of The National Agenda seems to me like a self-evident good. If nothing else, it builds a bridge from the activist community to the public at large and helps us keep Darfur from slipping off of the national radar.


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