Democratic debates don't need spectacle of live drawings and opinion hosts

Democratic debates don't need spectacle of live drawings and opinion hosts
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Televised presidential debates are very good for the cable news business. But are they becoming more about entertainment than informing voters on candidates? 

Take CNN's decision to do a live televised draw of the candidate lineup for the network’s upcoming debates. Draws like this are common with events like the NBA draft lottery, but something never seen before in modern politics.

As a result, the network risks another scenario where one night is crowded with top-tier candidates and the other is filled with politicians polling below 3 percent, as we saw in Miami on June 26 and 27. Those debates were hosted by NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo.

For a candidate like Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenButtigieg tweeted support for 'Medicare for All' in 2018 Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems change drug pricing bill to address progressive concerns | Top Republican rejects Dem proposal on surprise medical bills | Vaping group launches Fox News ad blitz Hillicon Valley: FCC approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Dems wrangle over breaking up Big Tech at debate | Critics pounce as Facebook's Libra stumbles | Zuckerberg to be interviewed by Fox News | Twitter details rules for political figures' tweets MORE (D-Mass.), there can be real consequences from randomly choosing from the 20 Democratic candidates. She was picked to appear on June 26 with no real top-tier candidates alongside her. It's hard to draw a contrast with former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump says lawmakers should censure Schiff Schiff says committees will eventually make impeachment inquiry transcripts public Trump threat lacks teeth to block impeachment witnesses MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems change drug pricing bill to address progressive concerns | Top Republican rejects Dem proposal on surprise medical bills | Vaping group launches Fox News ad blitz Democrats have reason to worry after the last presidential debate Krystal Ball on Sanders debate performance: 'He absolutely hit it out of the park' MORE (I-Vt.) if those candidates aren't even on stage. 

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Warren was left with punching down against those who have almost no chance at the nomination. The following night, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHillicon Valley: FCC approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Dems wrangle over breaking up Big Tech at debate | Critics pounce as Facebook's Libra stumbles | Zuckerberg to be interviewed by Fox News | Twitter details rules for political figures' tweets Democrats have reason to worry after the last presidential debate 2020 Democrats recognize Pronouns Day MORE (D-Calif.), who had been struggling in the polls while sitting in fourth or fifth place overall, hammered Biden directly and got the most ink after the debates.

There's also the issue with being forgotten in a span of just a few hours after the debate is over. Because thanks to the back-to-back format, candidates appearing on the second debate night will overshadow those from the night before, simply by happenstance. 

After night No. 1, there will be reviews and spin post-debate and into the morning. By the afternoon, however, the previews will already be prevalent for night No. 2. But after night No. 2, there are no more debates left to preview, giving the second night longer legs in the news cycle. 
 
The moderator selections have been faulty as well. Four of the moderators — Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt, Chuck ToddCharles (Chuck) David ToddRand Paul calls for probe of Democrats over Ukraine letter White House officials stand by Syria withdrawal, sanctions delay amid bipartisan pushback Sunday shows — Officials rush to Trump's defense on Syria, sanctions MORE and José Diaz-Balart — work in the news divisions of NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo.

But rounding out its lineup, NBC chose Rachel MaddowRachel Anne MaddowKrystal Ball dismisses Ukraine scandal as 'manufactured drama' Rachel Maddow signs onto 'Batwoman' TV series Whistleblowers and the hypocrisy of the ruling class MORE, a partisan opinion host. You may recall that Maddow — who is MSNBC's top-rated host — actually hugged Sanders and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP warns Graham letter to Pelosi on impeachment could 'backfire' Hillary Clinton praises former administration officials who testified before House as 'gutsy women' Third-quarter fundraising sets Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg apart MORE on live television before a national television audience after a debate in 2016. 

CNN is now making the same mistake in choosing Don LemonDon Carlton LemonConservatives slam Beto O'Rourke over threat to tax-exempt status for religious organizations CNN LGBTQ town hall interrupted by protesters O'Rourke: Religious institutions should lose tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage MORE to moderate the debates, alongside Dana BashDana BashCNN faces backlash for video highlighting white congresswomen as impeachment leaders Giuliani pulls out of event featuring Putin: reports Sanders, Yang to miss CNN's town hall on LGBTQ issues MORE and Jake TapperJacob (Jake) Paul TapperBiden praises Buttigieg for criticizing GOP attacks: 'That's a good man' White House officials stand by Syria withdrawal, sanctions delay amid bipartisan pushback Kasich to Congress: 'Look in the mirror at how you want to be remembered' MORE. Lemon is listed as an anchor on CNN.com, but he is obviously one of the most opinionated people in cable news. Almost all of those opinions are anti-Trump.  

Lemon recently compared the president to Hitler and declared Trump to be a racist. And there's the time he called Trump "conman in chief" while mocking him for declaring bankruptcy over some of his casinos back in the '80s and early '90s. 

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So, why would CNN or NBC choose an opinion host to moderate? The decision opens the networks up to criticism, especially when considering there are plenty of hard-news journalists either network could tap for the role. 

NBC has Steve Kornacki, for example, who is as ensconced and knowledgeable as anyone in political media. He deserves a shot. As does CNN's Erin Burnett, who anchors a primetime program but has yet to moderate any primary debate, despite being on its air since 2011.   

In August 2015, more than 24 million tuned into Fox News for the first primary debate of the 2016 campaign season.

The recent Miami debates drew in 15.3 million and 18.1 million viewers, respectively.

Debates are very good business. But it doesn't have to be show business. 

Live draws and partisan opinion hosts need not be added. The interest is already there. 

Joe Concha is a media reporter for The Hill and co-host of "WOR Tonight with Joe Concha" weeknights on 710-WOR in New York. Follow Concha on Twitter @JoeConchaTV.