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Do a better job on candidates' qualifications

DISCUSSIONS | May 25, 2006

Murrey Marder

1950 Nieman fellow; retired Washington Post diplomatic correspondent; sponsor of and senior adviser to the Nieman Foundation’s Watchdog Project.


The press as a whole does a poor job of preparing the public with relevant information about the qualifications of candidates for making judgments on such vital national and international subjects as war and peace, national security, civil rights, globalization, international trade, and sensitivity to clashing cultures.

It is often argued in newsrooms that "the public is not interested in foreign policy." That is a cop-out response. It is the responsibility of the press to explain why it is so important to explore these issues which can carry a nation into war without debate, or become committed to military or other spending which can cripple the nation's economy. The increasing interlocking of international, national and regional developments in the world opens every member of Congress to questioning about virtually every issue that comes before the House or Senate.

With a single party in control of the White House, the Senate and House, and with virtual de facto control of the legislature, Congressional oversight has almost entirely disappeared. The press is heavily responsible for this failure to explain the consequences of not holding government departments and officials publicly accountable for their actions. This default shatters the basic premise of checks-and-balances in democratic government.

Each one of these subjects can be explored in depth with candidates, not only by asking for pro or con voting positions on various subjects, but more effectively by asking candidates to discuss the arguments on opposing sides. What is the candidate's concept of complying with the dictates of his party's leaders? Is the candidate concerned about the extraordinary loss of congressional oversight? What does the candidate propose doing about it?

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