Newton Minow: Trump-Biden Debate ‘A Totally Disgusting Performance’


Interruption, disruption and insults. Tuesday’s presidential debate was arguably the most chaotic ever produced.

Chicago’s Newton Minow is the father of presidential debates. He first proposed the idea in 1955 and still serves on the Commission on Presidential Debates, which said in a statement Wednesday the debate “made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues. The CPD will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly.”

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One of those options, Minow confirmed, is a mute button the moderator can use to stop an interruption.

“Yes, we’re considering everything,” Minow said Wednesday on “Chicago Tonight.” “We know that what happened last night did not serve the voter well, and that’s our purpose. It’s not our purpose to serve the candidates, it’s to serve the voter.”

Minow, who is also an attorney, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission under President John F. Kennedy, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a member emeritus of the WTTW board,  has been involved with about 40 debates, beginning in 1960 with Kennedy and Richard Nixon. 

“This is the first time that the candidates have not obeyed the rules,” Minow said. “They have made this opportunity to educate and serve the voters, and turned it into a totally disgusting performance in the exercise of the Democratic process.”

“I was not only distressed, I was disgusted because our purpose in having the debates is to serve the viewer, to give the viewer some valuable information before the viewer votes and instead we got a wrestling match,” he said.

Still, Minow believes in the importance of debates. They allow voters to evaluate a candidate’s ability, intellect and personality, he said, and live television creates a unique opportunity to show how candidates think on their feet and deal with the situation. 

“I think we have to go on with the debate and we have to insist that civil discourse is restored as it should be, and if we find that candidates don’t want to observe the rules, we’ll find another way to serve the voters,” Minow said. “We’re not going to give up because we feel that our purpose is a very valuable purpose in a democracy and that is to give the voter the information about their choice, and that’s essential in a democracy.”

Next up is the vice presidential debate on Oct. 7, followed by two more presidential debates on Oct. 15 and Oct. 22. 


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