Is the City Club Biased?

The City Club has recently come in for some pointed critical feedback regarding a recent debate. Actually, it wasn't so much the debate as the way the debate was moderated. I was the moderator.

It was Monday, October 13, and we hosted a debate for the 14th Congressional DistrictThere were a few points raised from a few different people, all active members or leaders in the Ohio Republican Party, and the criticism generally focused on the questions asked of Congressman Dave Joyce and the manner in which I asked them. We were accused of incivility, being disrespectful of the office of the congressman, being biased against the congressman, giving his opponents, Michael Wager (D) and David Macko (L) a "pass." The moment in the debate that seemed to upset members of the audience was nearly halfway in, when I asked about the Affordable Care Act, and followed up by reiterating the question I felt hadn't been answered. You can see for yourself below. The question in question begins at about 26:45.

The feedback inspired a bit of soul searching here at the City Club. Staff and board leadership fielded emails and informal feedback and dissected the debate and that moment in the debate. There was no consensus. Some of us felt the questions and follow-ups were too much. Others thought I was fair. (Neither the congressman nor any of his campaign representatives complained to us at all.)

The most important concern in all of this, though, has less to do with the moderation than with the role we play in this community and in our state's democracy. We strive to be the place where public officials of every stripe can be in direct dialogue with the public, a place where true engagement can happen, where voters become informed so they can make a decision at the ballot box. We need to be a place where Republicans and Democrats feel comfortable meeting with the public, answering unscripted questions and sharing their thinking processes. If we can't do that, we can't really fulfill our mission. To do it well means that we need engaged community members on all sides and the partnership of elected officials and the parties that support them. 

When candidates and officials agree to do this, it's challenging, and we run the risk of alienating those very representatives we seek to provide a forum for. That's one of the tough parts of being a public official, and many in our ranks believe it's not too much to ask of those public officials that they demonstrate a willingness to face difficult, often specific questions about complicated policy issues. 

This balance between being a place that candidates feel comfortable and being an effective citizens' engagement forum is a delicate one. We don't always achieve it. I suspect that often we swing from one side to another. And I will tell you, as someone who has moderated more debates and panels than I can count, achieving this balance in a debate is exceptionally difficult. Regardless, though, we'll keep offering to host debates whenever we're able, and we'll keep asking for help and guidance from anyone able to offer it. 

Of course, we're interested in your feedback. If you think we didn't do a good job moderating the debate, email me or leave a comment down below. 

In the meantime, I want to remind us all what's so great about these debates: they have the capacity to reveal so much about the thought processes of officials and candidates. Our last question, which was submitted by a City Club member, asked the candidates to describe a disagreement they have with their own party's leadership and how they negotiate those moments. Congressman Joyce provided an answer that should give heart to anyone who believes Congress is broken. You can see it at 53:15, but essentially he said that when he wasn't sure a bill his leadership was asking him to support was in his constituents' best interests, he visited the constituents who would be affected and asked them, and then he voted in their interest, rather than in the party's. Whether you're supporting the GOP or the Democrats, I don't think you can ask more of a congressional representative than that, and I've communicated the same to the Congressman. 


Comments (2)

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  • Mac McMeans

    Is The City Club biased? I tend to think so. Out of fear or other motivations, The Club has staunchly refused to invite the independent candidate Scott Rupert to be part of the US Senate debates for 2012 and 2016. Let me be clear: this is a viable, legally-certified candidate who has jumped through all the political hoops in order to be listed on the election ballot. Is The City Club biased? Yes, they are. When they ignore the independent candidate, they foster the notion there is no independent candidate. The City Club is really just the good ol' boys club, and as long as one's political moniker is wrapped in a "D" or "G" then membership is open. By definition, outsiders are... well, on the outside. Yes, it's your club and you can make your own rules. Just don't pretend to be unbiased. In the post here is a claim to be concerned about striking the balance between making candidates "feel comfortable" and being an effective "engagement forum." How can The Club impartially engage the candidates when it cherry-picks the ones it cooperates with? That's bias, plain and simple. Buckeyes are long weary of being told they must choose between the Republican they don't like and the Democrat they don't like, as if those are the only options they will ever have. Ohio has cried out for an ordinary hard-working, grassroots, limited government, constitutional, independent citizen-statesman like Scott Rupert, as an alternative to two-party shell game. And sadly, when that manner of candidate presents himself, The Club pretends he doesn't exist. The City Club mirrors all that is wrong with the two-party system where both factions spend more time and money fixing the blame "on the other guy," than they do fixing any real problems. In lieu of pandering to a process where nothing gets done and everyone gets blamed for it, why not engage the citizenry and improve the forum by displaying ALL the candidates on equal footing? Stop the bias. Let the voters determine the favorite. As long as The Club continues to discriminate against candidates, it will continue to be part of the problems a biased position creates.

  • Patricia Blochowiak

    I finally watched this today. I thought that you did a good job, Dan, though it was apparent that you were frustrated when Dave Joyce didn't answer your question. I think that your expectation that he answer the question was appropriate.