To Cure Shouting-Match Debates, Use a Mic Kill Switch

To Cure Shouting-Match Debates, Use a Mic Kill Switch; Simple Remedy Prevents Candidates From Overwhelming Moderator

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (September 30, 2020) -  Many voters who watched the first presidential debate were undoubtedly annoyed, irritated, or worse because so much of what could have been a substantive but spirited debate on the issues all too frequently degenerated into a shouting match when one candidate interrupted another, and both wound up talking at the same time.

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Mic Kill Switch Can End Shouting-Match Debates

There's a very simple solution to cure such shouting-match debates, where one or more candidates violate the mutually agreed-upon rules, and refuse the direction from the moderator to let an opponent continue talking without interruption, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

This device, which could have maintained order by permitting the moderator to exercise some control over interrupters, is called a "kill switch," and permits the moderator to shut off the mic of any person who refuses to abide by the rules, and repeatedly interrupts an opponent after being asked to allow him to speak.

It works wonders, says Banzhaf, who confesses that once, when his debate style became too aggressive for the host, her threat to simply turn off his microphone served as a powerful incentive to tone things down.

With modern lapel microphones which do not pick up sounds from more than a few feet away, a debater whose microphone is cut off can't be heard, even if he tries yelling in the direction of the mic of his opponent or the host.

And nothing makes somebody look more ridiculous and weak than to be shouting during a debate without a word being heard by the TV audience, suggests Banzhaf.

The Idea Of Cutting Off A Debater's Microphone Is Not New

Although this debate probably experienced more interruptions, and more outright defiance of the moderator's attempts to maintain control, than others in recent memory, the idea of cutting off a debater's microphone is not new.

In the 1980 primary debate between Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, the sound technician was asked by the moderator to cut off Reagan's mic at one point, but Reagan thundered "I am paying for this microphone," which was technically true.

But that objection should not apply to presidential and vice presidential debates, so a mic kill switch could be very useful in permitting moderators to actually moderate, especially where a debater takes advantage of the current situation to dominate the debate by "stepping on" (the technical term) his opponent's remarks and belittling the largely helpless moderator, argues Banzhaf.