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OUR OPINION: Presidential debates needed a mute button

OUR OPINION: Presidential debates needed a mute button

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President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, with moderator Chris Wallace, center, of Fox News, debate Tuesday at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland.

If you’ve had any familiarity with Zoom calls this past year, you know the host has the ability to mute anyone in the conversation.

That’s what moderator Chris Wallace needed at Tuesday night’s presidential debate – a mute button.

Unwilling to let Joe Biden speak when it was his turn, President Trump talked incessantly, failing to show any of the diplomacy he says he possesses. Riled by some of his opponent’s claims, Biden called Trump a “clown” and offered some of the terms the president used to refer to the military.

In short, the event was a mess.

Wallace had good questions for both candidates, but he never got an opportunity to get answers. The two men had specific talking points and they were determined to wedge them in, no matter what the question.

Instead of extolling the virtues of his presidency, Trump acted like he was running against an incumbent. He tried to pin America’s failings on Obama’s administration, yet didn’t do much to indicate why Americans should believe they’re better off now than they were four years ago.

When the conversation turned to the COVID-19 pandemic, he hinted at a vaccine that would be coming very soon, but he couldn’t explain why he didn’t warn the country sooner. Instead, he used fear tactics to indicate that a Biden presidency would shut down the economy.

What came through – even when he was trying to deflect a question about white supremacy – was his inability to admit to any mistake. Tossing out words like “great,” “the greatest,” “the best” don’t fool voters. That’s hype – something that fuels television reality shows.

Biden, meanwhile, unleashed a series of facial gestures as a way to dismiss what Trump was saying. He was riled when Trump said Hunter Biden got $3.5 million from the wife of the mayor of Moscow. (Biden refuted the claim and, later, the Poynter Institute said Trump’s claim was unproven.)

Like a bad reality show, the debate merely reinforced what voters already knew. If we’re going to learn anything in the next two, changes need to be made.

First, moderators need to establish clear ground rules and stick to them. If that means muting the person who shouldn’t be speaking, do it.

Second, the candidates need to stay on topic. Allowing them to end the night with a closing statement would give them the chance to hit those subjects that weren’t covered.

Third, there’s a critical need for civility. What voters need most are candidates who can demonstrate they’re able to work with those who don’t share the same opinion.

Tuesday’s debate answered none of the questions we’ve been asking for months.

Our Opinion editorials represent the consensus view of The Sioux City Journal editorial board. Members of the board include: Bruce Miller, editor; Dave Dreeszen, managing editor; Tim Hynds, chief photographer; Chad Pauling, publisher.

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CLEVELAND — The first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden deteriorated into a bitter showdown Tuesday as the president repeatedly interrupted his opponent with angry — and personal — taunts that sometimes overshadowed the sharply different visions each man has of a nation facing historic crises.

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