Open Debate Coalition: a failed format for fake debates
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The "Open Debate Coalition" - a group consisting of people such as Glenn Reynolds ("Instapundit") and Stanford law professor Larry Lessig  - is calling on John McCain and Barack Obama to open the presidential debates by allowing questions chosen by regular people and not just the MSM.
However, what they support has not only been proven to be a failure, but two of the signatories helped show how such formats can be gamed and another was involved with the system that was gamed. In brief, their proposal is a farce and a setup.
They prefer use of bubble-up Internet technology, which they call "the essence of the internet as we know it." In effect, online users submit the questions and then vote on their favorites, pushing the most popular to the top of the list. Debate questions would be taken from the top 25 vote-getters.
The experience of 10Questions.com shows how that can be gamed. In November, Patrick Ruffini was able to propel a weak question to the top of the 10 Questions heap and it was asked of the candidates in some way. The month before, MoveOn was able to propel an even weaker question to the top of the heap, and that was asked of Obama during an MTV/MySpace televised debate. Not only that, but BHO had already stated his position on the topic months before.
Guess what: both Ruffini and two people from MoveOn are signatories on the current letter. And, another signatory is from TechPresident, the group that produced 10Questions. I guess they all want another crack at an "open debate".
I've already discussed how to make such systems work. And, in fact, I proposed that system to one of the groups behind 10Questions and they weren't interested. Instead, they joined forces with the New York Times and MSNBC to push the weak format that Ruffini and MoveOn were able to game.
Other systems show how a raw popularity vote pushes weak questions to the top and submerges the ones that partisan hacks don't want to discuss; for one example, see this.
So, why is the "Open Debate Coalition" proposing something that's a proven failure? Could it be that they don't really want real debates at all but are simply partisan hacks who want to manipulate the debates to their own advantage? Perish the thought!
UPDATE: In response to the first comment from Adam Green with MoveOn:
1. I'll take his word for it that Ruffini's question wasn't asked on TV. If it wasn't asked there, I assume it was asked of the candidates in some way. I've changed the above.
2. About the MoveOn/net neutrality question, this site says: "Obama's revelation wasn't exactly jaw-dropping" and I'll go a bit further. That question was akin to asking, "Comrade Lenin, do you agree that shoelace production is up 43%?" Ideally, questions should be adversarial and that was not.
3. There are literally thousands of bloggers and hundreds of various kinds of pundits who could vote under my plan, and all their votes would have the same weight. Under the "bubble-up" plan, Instapundit and others who get a large amount of traffic could cancel out the votes of almost everyone else simply by encouraging their readers to vote up certain questions. Under my plan, tough questions about immigration would stand a chance; under the "bubble-up" plan they'd be voted down by Party hacks who don't want that topic to be discussed.
4. No moderator, aside perhaps from those who'd never be selected as a moderator, would assuage my concerns about those who don't want tough subjects to be broached attempting to put their thumbs on the scale.
 Here are the members of the coalition. Almost all of the ones I'm familiar with are partisan hacks:
Lawrence Lessig – Professor, Stanford Law School & Founder, Center for Internet and Society
Glenn Reynolds – Professor, University of Tennessee Law, and founder of Instapundit.com blog
Craig Newmark – Founder, Craigslist
Jimmy Wales – Founder, Wikipedia
David Kralik – Director of Internet Strategy, Newt Gingrich's American Solutions
Eli Pariser – Executive Director, MoveOn.org Political Action
Adam Green – Director of Strategic Campaigns, MoveOn.org Political Action
Mindy Finn – Republican strategist, former Mitt Romney Online Director
Patrick Ruffini – Republican consultant, Bush/Cheney 2004 eCampaign Director
Arianna Huffington – Founder, Huffington Post
Markos Moulitsas – Founder, DailyKos.com
Jon Henke – New media consultant, including for Fred Thompson, George Allen, and Senate Republican
Mike Krempasky – Founder of RedState.com
Matt Stoller – Founder/Editor, OpenLeft.com
James Rucker – Executive Director, ColorOfChange.org
Robert Greenwald – President, BraveNewFilms
Kim Gandy – President, National Organization for Women
Carl Pope – Executive Director, Sierra Club
Micah Sifry – Co-Founder, Personal Democracy Forum and TechPresident.com
Shari Steele, Executive Director, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Josh Silver – Executive Director, Free Press
Carl Malamud – Founder, Public.Resource.Org
Roger Hickey – Co-Director, Campaign for America's Future