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Tuesday, May 8, 2007
Hannity vs. Anderson: The Virtual Experience

I didn't attend the big debate, but I watched it later on the Internet. Here are my thoughts.

As I noted yesterday, when conservative radio host Sean Hannity and Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson met last Friday evening for a debate at Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah, I was not there.

I was watching my daughter (and about 60 others) on stage at American Fork Junior High. It was the opening night of Seussical. Where are my priorities?

Thanks to KSL, I was able to watch a pretty good video feed of the debate over the Internet on Monday, when I finally got around to it. Bear in mind that my observations are limited by what the camera showed and what the microphone picked up.

If you've spent much time here at the blog, you already know that I don't think much of Mayor Anderson's politics. Being conservative, I often agree with Sean Hannity, to whom I sometimes listen, but I wouldn't call myself a fan.

The Format

The debate format was interesting. It began with each party having half an hour for a presentation. The next segment had one of the men questioning the other for 15 minutes, and then they reversed roles for 15 more minutes. Then both responded to questions submitted by the audience, posed by the moderator. Finally, each made a brief closing statement.

I liked the format, but it would not work for debates which cover more than a single subject, such as most presidential debates. The general subject of this debate was something like, Should President Bush be impeached for lying us into an improper and illegal war?

The Moderator

Moderator Ken Verdoia raised moderating to an art form Friday evening. He struck me as a perfect choice for this debate, with a raucous, polarized audience and two debaters who are not at all timid. This was not and could not have been a genteel, tightly scripted, Jim Lehrer-moderated discussion. It partook somewhat of the spirit of a prize fight and needed to be refereed accordingly. Verdoia kept things moving, kept things fair and relatively civil, and verbally spanked the audience when they needed it -- and even the debaters a time or two. He has moderated other politicial debates in recent years, but this is the first time I have seen him do it.

The Audience

It was hard to tell from the KSL video feed whether the Hannity fans outnumbered the Rocky fans in the hall, or vice versa. Both contingents were large, enthusiastic, and loud. Most of the time, as far as I could tell, the audience seemed attentive and behaved acceptably. While Hannity spoke and showed videos of coalition forces discovering (and uncovering) mass graves in Iraq, the audience seemed to be very quiet.

The chief distinction between the two factions was that Rocky fans heckled Hannity several times to the point that the moderator had to admonish them. Hannity fans hardly did that to Mayor Rocky at all. (Tell me again, which is the party that prizes free speech?)


Despite his own declarations that we need to move past the name-calling, Mayor Rocky did not hesitate to call President Bush a liar, a war criminal, a torturer, and a kidnapper.

Hannity called Mayor Rocky a couple of names, too: "liberal" and "part-time mayor, full-time protestor." He said the Mayor was undermining the troops and encouraging the enemy. He accused the Mayor of "selective moral indignation" in demanding only the President's impeachment, not also the impeachment of Democratic senators and representatives who voted to authorize the war. And a couple of times he called Mayor Rocky by his real name, Ross.

Other Notes

Mayor Rocky seemed more concerned that the US adhere to an assortment of international agreements than to its own Constitution, though he did mention the latter a few times.

Mayor Rocky spoke absolutely uncritically of the Iraq Study Group and its report. (Here at the blog we call the ISG the CESM.) He didn't seem sensitive to the possibility that this would discredit him at all. He also claimed that Iraq "posed no threat whatsoever to the United States."

I didn't really hear any new arguments, and I can't say who won the debate, in terms of persuading people. I do think Hannity had the better arguments -- but I've scoffed at the "Bush lied" brigade from the beginning, so that doesn't mean much.

One of the most interesting questions came from the audience: Who does each debater favor for president in 2008? Mayor Rocky said, Bill Richardson, and he cited mostly Green reasons. Mr. Hannity said, any Republican who can beat "that woman," meaning Hillary Clinton.

Even if you don't want to watch, you can decide for yourself what you think. Here's a KSL story about the debate. And here are some lengthy quotations from Mayor Rocky and from Mr. Hannity.

Finally (Almost)

It's unfortunate when presidential debate formats and the candidates involved squeeze all the life and passion out of politics when they debate. The same thing happens sometimes at a local level, too, when everyone is trying so hard to be nice that fundamental, important disagreements are obscured. Most of the time, I'd rather see Friday night's vigorous debate, even if it comes with some rude (mostly liberal) hecklers. I think it's better for politics. It's certainly better theater.


Here are the results of a KSL survey. More people seem to think Hannity won the debate. Few changed their minds either way about the war. And 73 percent said the rowdy audience was distracting; only 20 percent said it made it more enjoyable.

David Rodeback comments (5/14/07):

Sue Mullen of mullentown points us to Bill Frost's somewhat partisan, quite cynical, well-written account of the debate. He didn't like the "vigorous debate" I liked -- see above -- but he was there. I wasn't. Warning: his post includes a sprinkling of PG-13 language. And don't expect him to be very complimentary of Utah Republicans.

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