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KET drops traditional debates

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - With more incumbents shying away from
traditional debates, Kentucky Educational Television is giving
candidates a different option for 2010.

Rather than stand in front of a panel of journalists taking
questions, candidates will be invited to a weekly program where
they can discuss issues and take viewer questions and e-mails.

Beginning this spring, KET will invite all opposed candidates on
the ballot in U.S. Senate and House primary races to appear on the
"Kentucky Tonight" program, according to the Lexington

But voters are losing something important with the disappearance
of the debates, which were broadcast in every Kentucky county, said
Stephen Voss, political scientist at the University of Kentucky.
KET is the Kentucky's only statewide television network.

"What you lose by not having a respected, neutral third party
like KET hosting a debate is that it removes even more pressure
from the incumbents or the front-runners to prove that they deserve
to win, to make them publicly state their case," he said.

Debates are formal, structured, high-pressure events that put
candidates shoulder-to-shoulder and try to force direct answers.
Their usefulness to voters has grown in an era when campaign
advertising supplies most of what voters know about candidates,
Voss said.

However, most incumbents have shunned KET in recent years.

The problem reached its zenith in October 2008 when U.S. Rep. Ed
Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, refused to debate his Democratic

Hours before the event, Whitfield demanded that KET air an
unedited videotaped statement that his campaign prepared. KET
complied, leaving Whitfield's challenger to stand alone and be
grilled about foreign policy and the economy, followed by the
congressman's campaign tape.

KET believes the 2008 incident was "unfair," and it prompted a
discussion on how to proceed in future election years, KET
spokesman Tim Bischoff said Wednesday.

"Kentucky Tonight," hosted by Bill Goodman, airs Mondays at 8
p.m. EST. Goodman will discuss the issues with whichever candidates
show up, and viewers will be able to ask questions through e-mail
and phone calls, Bischoff said.

Although such discussions can be useful, they're no replacement
for a debate, Voss said.

"Just sitting around and chatting on a talk show, while it's
admittedly becoming more and more common in election campaigns, it
just doesn't have the same resonance," he said.
Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader,

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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