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Triviamongering in the U.S. presidential race

by Paul J. Balles
The candidates have provided the information voters need about their positions on important issues—on their websites. Don't expect to get it from the U.S. media.

Did Hillary Clinton tell the truth about a trip to Bosnia?

Why didn't Barack Obama get up and walk out of his church forever when his pastor made un-American comments in church?

Was Hillary contradictory if she said one thing at one time and something else at another?

Was there reason to question Obama's patriotism if he didn't wear an American flag pin on his suit lapel and hold his hand over his chest when the Star Spangled Banner was played?

These are not issues but trivia—something that the mainstream media in the USA loves to weigh in on. It was the media moderators who presented these time-wasting questions.

How did the candidates deal with the real issues? Poorly to say the least. Apart from losing half of their time responding to trivia, they failed to include any detailed substance in their answers to questions about the economy, taxation, health care, military or foreign policy.

When they're not focusing on trivia, both the media and the candidates are caught up in hypotheticals. There's no evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, but both the US administration and the Congress have been equating nuclear power with nuclear weapons.

The result? The media broadcasts factual errors. The American public picks it up and believes the propaganda originating in Israel and coming from Zionist supporters like John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate.

What the US would do in the event of an Iranian attack on Israel is based entirely on a myth that Iran would attack Israel. Iran is not one of the pre-emptive warrior nations. It has never attacked anyone except in self-defence, and has only spoken of attacking Israel if Israel or the US attacks Iran.

Moderators George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson both gave the impression of asking challenging questions; but these came only with questions about trivia and not about the real issues.

A 90-minute debate like the latest one prior to voting for candidates in Pennsylvania raised the question of whether the candidates themselves are ready to deal with the important questions. One might even ask, Why should they?

Is there real concern for the issues? In the media? Among the electorate? In the broader world community? If the candidates’ detailed positions on the major issues were presented, would anyone take the time to listen or read what the candidates have to say?

The candidates have actually provided the information. Barack has a website called "Welcome to Obama for America," Hillary has one called "Hillary for President," and "McCain". They deal at length with the issues! Both Obama and Clinton address more issues than McCain does and McCain includes an issue not on the Democrats' lists.

For those really concerned with the positions of the candidates on any of the major issues, the entry of the Internet into the fray creates an entirely different approach to candidates and the issues. Media like TV and major newspapers will, of course, try to ignore the Internet presence by the candidates. The candidates themselves should be doing more to encourage potential supporters to read and discover their positions.

The disconcerting thing is that the candidates avoid several real issues. “Israel as an apartheid state” should be an issue. So should “the influence of lobbies,” “violations of the Geneva Convention,” “stem cell research,” “the environment” and “the role of the UN.”

The media should stop dealing with trivia and base questions on the candidates’ positions on their websites, referring viewers to those websites for more detailed information. With the Internet, there’s no excuse for playing politics as usual.

Paul Balles is a retired American university professor and freelance writer who has lived in the Middle East for many years. For more information, see

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This story was published on April 24, 2008.