By Rod Miller, columnist
Pardon my French, but I’m pissed off!
It was just announced that the candidate debate between Liz Cheney and Harriet Hageman, to be hosted by Wyoming PBS next Thursday, will be closed to the public. Let me repeat that – the most important political debate in Wyoming this year will be closed to the public.
The reason given is “To ensure the safety of the candidates, the debate is closed to the public and the press.” This rationale was given by Wyoming PBS.
If Wyoming PBS made this decision unilaterally, they are guilty of journalistic yellowness of the first order. And they know better.
If the candidates, either one or both, decided to exclude the public from their debate because of personal or political fear, they are not worthy of the legacy of our Founders who pledged “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
If this decision stands, it will establish a precedent for years to come. It will build a firewall between voters and candidates that will insulate both from the truth that will last for generations.
By issuing this edict, Wyoming PBS and the candidates are telling the voters of Wyoming that their involvement in this election is not needed. They are saying that political cowardice trumps the citizens’ need to know.
And they have made of themselves the most important story of this election. Shame on them!
Our Great Experiment in Democracy has survived and thrived over the past couple centuries by operating in the sunlight, through intimate involvement of the voters and press. We Americans and we Wyomingites take it as a birthright that decisions affecting us are made in the light of day.
We, both layman and press, have always been involved with the give-and-take of political discourse between candidates. We goad them into telling the truth by asking hard questions in a public forum where everyone can hear the answers.
To confine this important exercise in democracy to a dark tv studio, with one camera is an insult to us all. To claim that this is being done for the security of the candidates or PBS is to hide behind the skirts of fear.
Generations of our youth did not fight and die so that Liz and Harriet could debate in their “safe place”. Nor was that sacrifice made so that Wyoming PBS could avoid unpleasant controversy by closing an important political debate
That blood was shed so that our government and our institutions could operate in an atmosphere of open truth and courage, with citizens’ witness and participation. Decisions like this negate that sacrifice. Shame on them!
This debate is important enough, and citizen and press involvement important enough, to open the doors and let us in. Its important enough to have law enforcement outnumber the audience, if that will make Wyoming PBS and the candidates more comfy with a public debate.
This is about our goddam democracy, not people’s feelings.
So, the debate should be open and the chips fall where they may. What is at stake is the future of public participation in our democratic process. If this decision stands, we can all start to kiss that treasure goodbye.
So Cheney, Hagemen, PBS and anyone else involved who thinks this is a good idea should change their minds pronto.
If they don’t, shame on them!