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Interview with Stan Statham, Ron Faucheux

Aired September 2, 2003 - 20:48   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: There's a debate tomorrow in the California recall race, but Arnold Schwarzenegger will not be there. In fact, Schwarzenegger is skipping all of the upcoming debates except for one. That one falls on September 17. That debate will be a little bit different. It turns out that Schwarzenegger and his opponents will be getting the questions in advance.
Joining me now from Sacramento is Stan Statham. He is the debates moderator, also CEO and president of the group sponsoring it, The California Broadcasters Association.

And in Washington tonight, Ron Faucheux. He is with Campaigns and Elections Magazine and the author of a new book appropriately called, "The Debate Book."

Good to see both of you. Welcome.

Let's start with you tonight, Stan. Your organization has never before released the questions used in a debate.

Why start now?

STAN STATHAM, PRESIDENT & CEO, CALIF. BROADCASTERS ASSN.: We're actually following some of Ron's guidance. We want to take as much politics out of this debate as possible. We're throwing away the podiums, we're throwing away the journalists, and we want the citizens to ask the question, and we'll all know in advance. It will be like the citizens giving the candidates homework. And when they answer those questions on the debate on September 24, it better not just be a sound byte, it better not be a spin, and it better have some details.

ZAHN: So, Ron, was this really your idea, and ultimately, does it help or hurt Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has to battle on a daily basis whether he's up to snuff on the issues?

RON FAUCHEUX, "CAMPAIGNS & ELECTIONS MAGAZINE": Well, first of all, it's very difficult to sponsor debates. There's always competing legitimate principles in terms of do you want to have a lot of candidates, just a small amount of candidates?

Do you want to have citizens ask the questions or reporters ask the questions?

Do you want to have long answers or short answers? All of these things are problems in debates. The sponsors ultimately have to determine this, and they have to get the candidates to agree. So, it's not always that easy to do. Generally speaking, when you have citizens asking questions, it is something that is often done where candidates have the questions in advance. Because you know what those questions are, so that the citizens are not overlapping one another. But generally speaking, it's good to have debates where there's more spontaneity than just prepared questions, where candidates have an opportunity to respond to questions from a series of sources, and not just limited to one source.

ZAHN: So, Ron, do you think this is a good thing or bad thing for Arnold Schwarzenegger?

You could potentially look at this two different ways, couldn't you?

FAUCHEUX: Well, you can. First of all, most political candidates are going to be prepared to answer all the major questions that will come at them. So whether they know the questions or not, they'll have a sense of the kinds of questions they'll ask. Professional journalists, and professional experts are able to ask questions in a way that might try to get at a perspective that they didn't prepare for. But voters actually want the spontaneity. They want candidates to think on their feet in public. They want candidates to show what they're made of personally, as well as the positions they're taking on issues. And one of the things that's important to voters is that they want to know whether the candidates have knowledge about issues. And that's going to be something very important for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not just to give pre-canned sound bytes about what he's for, but to demonstrate some working knowledge about these issues.

ZAHN: Stan, was this a condition for Arnold Schwarzenegger to enter this debate, that he would be provided the questions?

STATHAM: No, absolutely not. As a matter of fact, we thought of this back in April when there was no recall election going on in California. And then suddenly this thing happened. It became in the CNN spotlight. We gathered a committee, and we put it together. You know, I would suggest to you Paula, that these candidates are already scripted. Personally, five out of the six leading candidates, and we're going to add the kind of sizzle Ron was talking about, by after a candidate answers a question, then the other candidates will be encouraged to jump in. So we'll have, for lack of a better term, a civilized crossfire, Because that's what we want. We want sizzle, and we want them to answer and agree and disagree on all the important issues.

ZAHN: As you know, we have a civilized "CROSSFIRE" every afternoon 4:30 Eastern time, Stan. But we will be looking forward to all these debates and be covering them very closely. Stan Statham and Ron Faucheux, thank you again for your time tonight.


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