Post and Courier Associate Editor Frank Wooten has a column in today’s paper about the silliness of the YouTube debate. While Wooten attempts to trash the event, the YouTube debate actually proves that questions are best when they’re delivered by voters who know what they’re talking about and are actually invested in the answers.

Like most any journalist who doesn’t have “CNN” on their paycheck, I was very skeptical of the YouTube format. Really, right up to the opening question. But from then on I was sold.

You’re going to spend this whole night talking about your views on issues, but the issues don’t matter if when you get in power nothing’s going to get done. … I mean, be honest with us.  How are you going to be any different?

This isn’t just a question about contemptible politicians. It’s an indictment of the traditional debate structure as useless. Question asked. Question adequately answered. Next question. As boring as it is to read about it, it’s even more grueling watching it.

Of course, Wooten goes for the gonads instead of the heart in his column, taking swipes at questions that were offered just as much to keep viewers entertained as they were for their subject matter. Could CNN have used a straight forward question about the impact of Al Gore potentially entering the race? Yes. Could we, as viewers, have stomached sitting through it? Not likely.

What Wooten overlooks is the emotion from those who were asking their questions not from talking point, but from experience. After a lesbian couple asked the candidates about gay marriage, a North Carolina pastor laid out a detailed question about politicians who use religion to defend their opposition to gay marriage. When John Edwards was done answering the question, CNN handed a microphone to the questioner and asked if he got his answer. That one moment redeemed every debate viewer who has ever screamed at the TV, “He didn’t answer the question!”

Wooten complains that YouTube watchers didn’t ask detailed questions about Osama bin Laden’s current location, instead asking about public and private schools. Here’s some news for Wooten: People are concerned about public schools and the perception (and occasional reality) that politicians support public schools until it’s time to enroll their own kid. This is what people are thinking about daily and this is what they’re asking the candidates.

I asked one campaign staffer how her candidate was preparing for the debate and she noted that the questions were largely just that — the same ones he’d gotten on the campaign trail. When a candidate sits down in the booth at a local diner, few would ask him to pull out a map and point to a cave in Pakistan. They want to know about their problems, their concerns. All I can suggest is that Wooten take another look at the debate and look deeper than the entertainment factor to find the questions he’s been missing. The answers may be the allusive solution to saving readership.

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