Editorial: Stop treating politics like a game show


Dennis Van Tine/Geisler-Fotopres/DPA/Zuma Preses/TNS

Alex Trebek attends SNL’s 40th Anniversary Celebration at Rockefeller Plaza Feb. 15, 2015.

This TV host’s ego got in the way of the Pennsylvania gubernatorial debate on Monday between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican candidate Scott Wagner.

The answer: Who is Alex Trebek?

The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry asked Trebek — the host of Jeopardy, the famous quiz show — to moderate this year’s only gubernatorial debate. But he wasn’t the right choice for moderator. For starters, he’s from Canada and lives in California, and his TV experience extends only to hosting a game show. And on the night of the debate, his tangential monologues distracted from the candidates’ answers to his questions and his musings cut into precious time that could have been used to clarify both sides’ positions on important issues.

Trebek stated at the beginning of the debate that he wanted to have a conversation rather than a normal debate, which might have been an effective format if he wasn’t a major part of the conversation. He started many of his questions with personal anecdotes — when introducing the topic of gerrymandering he decided to tell a story about a road trip from Lansdale to Wilmington.

His digressions were long and overstepped the bounds of what a moderator should say during a political debate. For a man who asks questions for a living, he should know how to phrase one without dwelling on information that has no bearing on how the people of Pennsylvania will vote this November.

The numbers don’t lie about how excessively Trebek spoke — when broken down into how many minutes each man on stage spoke, Trebek spoke 44 times over 21 minutes, Gov. Wolf spoke 29 times for 17 minutes and Wagner spoke 25 times over 13 minutes.

But the most criticism came from a moment about 30 minutes into the 45-minute debate when Trebek made a joke that the only thing with a lower approval rating than the Pennsylvania legislature is the Catholic Church. This comment was met with boos from the crowd which prompted the television host to defend himself.

“No, don’t go there,” Trebek scolded the audience. “I was born and raised in the Catholic Church and I’m just as ticked off as everybody else is over what has happened with the Church.”

He proceeded for the next minute to describe in detail his school days at a Catholic boarding school of 250 students run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, where he spent three years with 44 priests who never sexually abused his classmates.

Trebek’s unnecessary joke and rant were offensive and insensitive, and neither candidate seemed to have a comment to follow them. Gov. Wolf interrupted to remind the moderator that he hadn’t “quite finished on the redistricting” question they’d been talking about.

He’s since apologized for his behavior during the debate, stating that he was “too naive” to host a political debate. Wagner has called for two more debates with Wolf to make up for the disappointment that was Monday night. And for the sake of Pennsylvanian voters who might be interested in hearing how the candidates — not Trebek — feel about important issues, it would be a good idea for Wolf to agree.