Tips for watching the presidential debates

Monday, October 1, 2012

With the first presidential debate of the 2012 election just two days away, a panel of political and journalism experts offered tips today on how citizens can get the most out of the debates.

The National Communication Association and the First Amendment Center held an interactive discussion today at the Newseum.  Moderator Gene Policinski, executive director of the First Amendment Center, and five panelists discussed “Beyond wins & losses: citizen’s guide to 2012 presidential debates.”

Here are seven tips for watching the presidential debates gleaned from the panel discussion:

Be prepared. Do your homework before the debates so you know the issues and the candidates’ positions.

Take notes and follow up. If the candidates mention new ideas or go off-message, you can check it later.

View with people of different political persuasions. You’ll get a real reaction when their candidate stumbles or scores. And you can have a real discussion afterward.

Watch and listen. Watch the candidates’ body language toward each other. Does the candidate’s body language match his rhetoric? How do the candidates react under pressure? Do they demonstrate leadership? Do they connect with the public?

Pay attention to the Q’s & A’s. Listen to the questions as intently as the responses, in part to determine if the candidate is addressing or avoiding the issue raised.

Avoid spin. Turn off the TV after you watch to avoid the spin doctors. Focus on the broadcast and avoid distractions. Know that the political parties are spinning even during the debates via Twitter and the Internet.

Use fact-checking sites. After the debate, go to several fact-checking sites to get the consensus view.  A few sites:, and The Washington Post’s The Fact Checker.

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