Remember the debates?

Recently The Atlantic’s James Fallows took on the laudable but unenviable task of watching all 47 of the primary debates. He arrives at some fascinating conclusions about these vaudeville inquisitions—conclusions that were hard to see when the debates machine gunned through the early part of the season.

For example, take this explanation of the evolution of the “raise your hand” question:

[W]hen the show-of-hands question made its unwelcome debut in this season’s debates, in the inaugural Brian Williams session, it appeared in a form that was hard for the candidates to duck without seeming evasive—whether they’d ever owned a gun—and by the time they saw what was happening, the pattern was set and there was no going back.

As Fallows notes, the tactic reached its ludicrous nadir (or zenith) when the Democratic candidates were asked to raise their hand to say whether or not they’d be willing to kill an unspecified number of civilians to get Bin Laden. Come on now: put those hands up!

Other gems: Fallows’s classification of the five worst question types, his theory that they can be viewed as a rather predictable television serial, and, and his forecast for the fall Obama-McCain showdowns. Read the whole thing here.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.