October 10, 2008  ·  Lessig

Now that both campaigns have signed on, we’ve focused the call for open debates to try to get some real progress. The new letter is below. Meanwhile, please sign up below to support the call for “open debates.” (The original letter to McCain and Obama is here.)

Join The Open Debate Movement – Sign Up Here

Open Debate Coalition

Dear Senator McCain and Senator Obama,

Thank you for your href="http://lessig.org/blog/2008/10/obama_reaffirms_support_for_op.html">recent
affirming our coalition’s href="http://lessig.org/blog/2008/09/free_debates_round_two.html">open debate principles,
designed to make this year’s presidential debates more “of the people” than
ever before. As we approach the final debate on October 15, we ask you to proactively
implement such principles right away.

The closed nature of the recent debates has been universally criticized. The
editors of Politico href="http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=DD42EB55-18FE-70B2-A8F5A91C92F31716http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=DD42EB55-18FE-70B2-A8F5A91C92F31716">wrote,
“The presidential debate commission’s rules are a scandal” resulting in “a
format designed to limit improvisation, intellectual engagement, and
truth-telling.” 83% of Obama supporters and 75% of McCain supporters style='mso-field-code:"HYPERLINK 022http://www.huffingtonpost.com/timothy-karr/citizens-panel-concerned_b_132871.html022 \t 022_blank022"'> class=MsoHyperlink>agree that tough follow-up questions were
lacking. Even Saturday Night Live spoofed the href="http://www.nbc.com/Saturday_Night_Live/video/clips/vp-debate-open-palin-biden/727421/">lack
of follow-up questions in the debates, and the href="http://www.nbc.com/Saturday_Night_Live/video/clips/update-thursday-debate-open/742065/">watered-down
“town hall” questions chosen.

Therefore, we ask you to jointly announce the following in advance of the
October 15 debate:

1) style='font:7.0pt "Times New Roman"'>      That
the debate moderator has broad discretion to ask follow-up questions after a
candidate’s answer, so the public can be fully informed about specific

2) style='font:7.0pt "Times New Roman"'>      That
after a “town hall” debate full of questions handpicked by the moderator, none
of which were outside-the-box, you will allow Bob Schieffer to ask some
Internet questions voted on by the public in the fashion href="http://lessig.org/blog/2008/09/free_debates_round_two.html">outlined in
our previous letter – which you agreed to. href="http://www.communitycounts.us/">Existing href="http://moderator.appspot.com/#e%253Dagltb2RlcmF0b3JyDQsSBlNlcmllcxjvAQw">technology
will make this easy.

3) style='font:7.0pt "Times New Roman"'>      That,
as a stipulation of the next debate, the media pool must release all 2008
debate footage into the public domain – as you agreed would be in the
public interest. href="http://www.cnn.com/POLITICS/blogs/politicalticker/2007/05/cnn-presidential-debate-footage.html">CNN,
ABC, and href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20114724/">NBC agreed to release video
rights during the primary, and href="http://www.broadcastingcable.com/index.asp?layout=article&articleid=CA6599759">CBS
agreed more recently. But Fox href="http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2007/10/mccains-dispute.html">threatened
Senator McCain for using a debate clip during the primary, and href="http://washingtonindependent.com/9668/nbc-kills-obama-youtube-hit">NBC invoked
copyright law against Senator Obama to stifle political speech recently. The
public deserves to know debate video can be reused without fear of breaking the

4) style='font:7.0pt "Times New Roman"'>      That
you agree to work with the Open Debate Coalition after the election to reform
or create an alternative to the Commission on Presidential Debates, so that the
debate process is transparent and accountable to the public. Despite both of
your agreement with the open debate principles, the Commission did nothing to
implement them – or even to engage in dialogue about potential
implementation. Also, the “ href="http://blogs.suntimes.com/sweet/2008/10/mccain_obama_deal_puts_limits.html">31-page
memo of understanding” with debate rules is nowhere on the Commission’s
website, and has not been turned over despite requests.

The signers of this letter don’t agree on every political issue. But we do
agree that in order for Americans to make the best decision for president, we
need open debates that are “of the people” in the ways described above. You
have the power to make that happen, and we ask you to do so.

Thank you for your willingness to take these ideas to heart. If you have any
questions, please contact: [email protected]


Lawrence Lessig; Professor, Stanford Law School, Founder, href="http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu">Center for Internet and Society

Ellen Miller; Executive Director, Sunlight

Craig Newmark; Founder, Craigslist

Jimmy Wales; Founder, Wikipedia

Glenn Reynolds; Professor, University of Tennessee Law, and founder of Instapundit.com blog

Aaron Swartz;   Founder, href="http://www.reddit.com/">Reddit

Patrick Ruffini; Republican consultant, Former Republican National Committee
eCampaign Director, and a blogger at TheNextRight.com

Mindy Finn; Republican strategist, former Mitt Romney Online Director, and blogger at TheNextRight.com

Eli Pariser; Executive Director, MoveOn.org
Political Action

Mike Krempasky; Co-Founder of RedState.com

Adam Green; Director of Strategic Campaigns, MoveOn.org
Political Action

Arianna Huffington; Founder, HuffingtonPost.com

Markos Moulitsas; Founder, DailyKos.com

Roger L. Simon, CEO, Pajamas Media

Eric Burns; President, Media Matters
for America

David Kralik; Director of Internet Strategy, Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions

Carl Pope; Executive Director, Sierra Club

John Amato; Founder of Crooksandliars.com

K. Daniel Glover, Executive Producer, href="http://www.eyeblast.tv/public/default.aspx">Media Research Center’s
Eyeblast.tv, and of AirCongress

Jon Henke; New media consultant (including
for Fred Thompson, George Allen, Senate Republican Caucus) and a blogger at href="http://www.thenextright.com/">TheNextRight.com

Matt Stoller; Founder/Editor, OpenLeft.com

James Rucker; Executive Director, ColorOfChange.org

Andrew Rasiej; Personal
Democracy Forum
and TechPresident.com

Micah Sifry; Personal Democracy
and TechPresident.com

William Mitchell; Professor, MIT

Josh Silver; Executive Director, Free Press

Carl Malamud; Founder, Public.Resource.Org

Clay Johnson; Director, Sunlight Labs

Robert Greenwald; President, BraveNewFilms

Kim Gandy; President, National Organization for

Roger Hickey; Co-Director, Campaign for
America’s Future

Billy Hallowell, Director of Content, VoterWatch

David Colarusso; Founder, communityCOUNTS.us

  • http://www.somervilleirv.org Greg

    This seems to be assuming the role that the organization OpenDebates is supposed to play. OpenDebates was pretty active in the run-up to the 2004 election, but this time around they seem to have disappeared. It would be nice to see this effort unite with whatever remains of OpenDebates to form a robust organization in favor of presidential debate reform.