Nieman News

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Sept. 27, 2004) — If Internet users could moderate the first presidential debate this Thursday about foreign policy, George W. Bush and John F. Kerry would face some basic but tough questions about the Iraq war and the doctrine of preemption.

Almost three weeks ago,, the watchdog Web site of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, put out a call on the Internet: Send us the questions you’d like to see asked at the presidential debates and point us to proposed questions posted elsewhere on the Web.

The response? More than 150 questions were submitted, and editors found many hundreds more in the blogosphere and in online publications. The number and quality show a keen interest in the debate, and a good bit of anger, as well, say Editor Barry Sussman and Deputy Editor Dan Froomkin.

Many of the best questions didn’t come from people in the news media or from experts, Sussman notes, but rather from “just plain concerned citizens — and, very often, concerned citizens who are really ticked off.”

Sussman and Froomkin selected what they consider to be the 10 best questions related to foreign policy. One came from Harry Thomas, Seattle, who submitted this question for President Bush: “We justify the War in Iraq as a preemptive war. Would we support other countries (like Indonesia, Russia or Israel) that feel the need for preemptive strikes to protect their homeland?”

Terri Kordella in northern Virginia submitted another question selected for the Top 10, this one for Kerry: “Please explain, once and for all: ‘I voted for [the $87 billion] before I voted against it.’ ”

To read the entire list, and to submit questions, go to the Web site.

The editors will select 10 more questions on any topic before the Oct. 8 debate and then another 10 on domestic policy before the Oct. 13 debate. is part of the Nieman Watchdog Project. The purpose of the site is to connect reporters and editors with experts in various fields who provide questions aimed at holding powerful people and institutions more accountable.

The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University has since 1938 been the home of the Nieman Fellows, the oldest midcareer fellowship for journalists in the world. The fellowships are awarded to working journalists of accomplishment and promise for an academic year of study in any part of the university. The foundation also publishes the quarterly magazine Nieman Reports and is the home of the Nieman Program on Narrative Journalism.

Show comments / Leave a comment