Thom Tillis, The Chair, And How A 'Debate' Became A Really Long Interview
Normally, when a high profile politician sits down with a news program, it’s billed as an interview. If the politician in question is a big enough name, it’s called an exclusive.
But Tuesday night, when Thom Tillis took his seat on the set of Capital Tonight on Time Warner News, it was billed as a debate. Then, after some behind the scenes drama, it went from a debate to something else.
Despite the Tillis camp all but double-dog-daring Senator Kay Hagan to show up last night, when the opening music started, Hagan’s absence was never in doubt.
The planners of this - we’ll call it a debate for the moment - knew that was the case for months. Around late summer "they informed us that they had chosen where they would debate and this event was not going to be one of them," says Rick Thames, the Executive Editor of the Charlotte Observer.
The Observer, the News and Observer and Time Warner News originally co-sponsored the debate. All three news organizations would have their top political reporters asking questions. Thames said the plan was to go on with the show even if only one political act was on display. "We didn’t feel that if one should pass over it that it should preclude us from letting another candidate speak to voters." At least that was the plan around 3:00 p.m. yesterday when he spoke to us.
Then, just before broadcast, came the chair. An empty one. Placed to the left of Tillis.
A clear representation that someone was missing. And possibly implying that Hagan’s absence was a last minute thing, a surprise.
Calling it a political gimmick, the two newspapers pulled out of the event just before airtime. Their reporters went with them.
Which is when this debate was no longer called a debate. Albeit with just a sole participant, it was always going to be the political version of the sound of one hand clapping.
This now became a de facto one hour exclusive for Time Warner.
They called it a conversation.
And throughout their conversation Time Warner’s Loretta Boniti and Tim Boyum did press Tillis. Take this question from Boniti:
LB: You talk a lot about getting rid of regulations and lowering regulations. To what point? Don’t we need a certain amount of regulations to be out there if nothing else than for responsibility? TT: Well of course. I mean you don’t want to wake up every morning to find out how fast you’re going to go on the highway. That’s an example of a regulation. The problem is the regulations that go so far that there’s no real benefit to them.
Or this follow-up question by Boyum on whether or not Tillis supports American troops fighting ISIS extremists in Iraq or Syria.
TT: If a 12 year old child can cross the border to our south than you can be pretty certain that an ISIS terrorist can. And this president is failing to secure our safety and security. Not only in the middle east, but here in the homeland. TB: I don’t mean to belabor the point here but if necessary you support troops on the ground if necessary. TT: I think that there’s a lot of things we can do short of putting boots on the ground.
All the while that chair on Tillis’s left sat empty. If only there was someone to fill it.
Someone like Libertarian Sean Haugh. He took part in the last real debate. And Haugh was actually at the station for last night’s broadcast. He even gave a five minute rebuttal on camera after Tillis wrapped up.
But Haugh has failed to reach the 15 percent polling threshold set up by the organizers. So he was not allowed to sit in for the main event.
As for Senator Hagan, she may not have been at the event, but her camp was definitely watching. Just three minutes after the debate-turned-conversation ended they blasted out a 472 word email titled "Speaker Tillis Cant Even Win A Debate With Himself."