Political Debates on German vs US TV: Paging John Stewart

Last week I spent a few days with family, friends and startups in Germany. When I was at my parents we watched a television debate about Islam, religious freedom and German society. I was struck by the stark contrast to most political debates on US television.

The debate had five participants, including the head of one of the largest Muslim organizations in Germany, several German politicians, as well as an outspoken critic of radical Islam. The tone remained civil at all times and the participants were largely able to complete arguments that required more than a single sentence. The moderator did a solid job of both advancing the discussion but also making sure that people didn’t get away with evading a topic. The net result was that the debate actually helped to elucidate the issues.

I can’t remember the last time I have seen something similar on US television. Now I watch extremely little TV and so my impressions are biased from seeing CNN while at the gym. CNN pretty much seems to be angry people yelling at each other with barely enough room for a soundbite never mind an actual argument.

The debate I watched at my parents was on public television. Germany still has an annual per capita tax that is used to finance these programs. It is something that many people in the US would scoff at, but means that debates like this can happen without a perceived need for sensationalism to generate ratings or ad impressions.

So this left me with an idea for John Stewart’s next act. He should raise money via crowdfunding for an Internet distributed show that will moderate high quality public discourse. It would be a huge contribution to the political process here in the US.