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Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Change the Moderator

October 5, 2020

How do you rein in someone who won’t follow rules? Putting a journalist in charge is definitely not the right answer.

Milt Policzer

By Milt Policzer

Courthouse News columnist; racehorse owner and breeder; one of those guys who always got picked last.

How do you rein in someone who won’t follow rules? Putting a journalist in charge is definitely not the right answer.

I note this since (at least as of this writing and pending the condition of the president) the Commission on Presidential Debates was thinking about changing the format of the debates to get a more orderly discussion of issues.

Good luck with that.

I do, however, have a suggestion: don’t use a journalist to ask questions. I’ve been in the news business for a very long time and there’s one thing I’ve never done: try to get anyone to talk less.

This is not what journalists do. We want just the opposite. The more someone talks, rants, acts out and/or outrages us the better. We want the drama!

So it’s not reasonable to expect a professional news person to regulate responses. We don’t do that. We’re not supposed to do that. We’re supposed to sit back, take notes and enjoy the chaos. A good journalist can’t suddenly reverse the instincts of a lifetime.

The moderators we need are the people who moderate professionally: judges.

Would a judge have put up with constant interruptions and digressions? Wouldn’t a judge have found at least one of the candidates in contempt and had him led off to jail?

So here’s the format we need:

Keep the journalist(s) to ask questions (we can do that). Have an experienced, preferably menacing-looking judge smack down interruptions and unresponsive answers. And station bailiffs near each candidate.

Some rules of evidence could help a lot too.

I have one other terrific candidate for the moderator role: Alex Trebek. He’d tell you when you got the facts wrong and he’d keep score.

After all, we’re all in Final Jeopardy now.

Art news. I know this is counterintuitive, but a town called Potsdam has a problem with potties.

The Village of Potsdam, New York, despite its name, has attempted to force a resident to get rid of the toilets he was using on his property as flower planters because they were “junk.”

The property owner, naturally, begged to differ. He said they were “porcelain gardens.”

I can report this, naturally, because it’s gotten some media attention and is now the subject of an entertaining federal judge’s 42-page ruling in which we get a brief history of a toilet dispute that has been going on for 15 years.

You’ll be happy to know (I think) that the judge ruled that the “porcelain garden display is entitled to First Amendment protection.”

My favorite line from the ruling: “Indeed, there is some reason to doubt that a display of repurposed junk art (and particularly one that has become something of a local phenomenon) would have the same depressing effect on property values as a lingering pile of garbage.”

Maybe a lot of reason to doubt.

I have no idea why Potsdam officials are so anti-toilet (aside from toilets being a bit gross), but they should reconsider. This is artwork (or, perhaps, junk) that’s put this town on the map and garnered worldwide attention. I’d embrace it and start planning a toilet museum and maybe a statue. Imagine the untapped tourist trade. Imagine the t-shirts and trinkets. Imagine the Swirly Waters theme park.

There’s a giant Life Savers roll just 32 miles away in Gouverneur, New York. There could be tours.

Categories / Op-Ed

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