The recently held CNN Philippine presidential debate, attended by nine out of ten presidential aspirants, has sparked online and offline discussions whether it was staged, rehearsed, or scripted. Several people who watched the event noted that some participants seemed rehearsed or gave memorized answers or were not spontaneous nor candid enough to deliver an impromptu response. These observations raised the questions: Was the CNN presidential debate rehearsed and scripted? Were the questions sent to the participants in advance?
Let’s address the second speculation first. According to many people who aired their grievances online, CNN might have sent the questions to the participants in advance since they seemed prepared. This issue has been addressed by Mai Rodriguez, a CNN news anchor and producer, on her Twitter page saying no questions were given to any candidate.
Additionally, both vice presidential aspirant Dr. Willie Ong and VP Leni Robredo shared on their social media platform that they were given pieces of paper and pens so they can take notes, write their response outlines, and anticipated questions and answers during event. Both of which further indicate that questions were not sent to them in advance as their preparations were both done during the debate itself; otherwise, there would have been no need for notetaking and outlining.
Source (VP Leni Robredo): https://www.facebook.com/leni.robredo/posts/10223770086892478
Source (Dr. Willie Ong): https://www.facebook.com/DocWillieOngOfficial/posts/519388316509122
Now, onto the second question: Was the CNN presidential debate rehearsed and scripted? Hardly so. Unlike your normal argument with your friends and family (and maybe strangers online) formal debates have sets of established rules and guidelines (this isn’t some bardagulan event); and despite the seemingly rehearsed or memorized statements and responses, the CNN debate followed some of these guidelines.
In formal debates, participants are informed of the topics to be discussed ahead of time so they can conduct their research, know their stand, and prepare their arguments or counterarguments about the said topic. This may have been the case with the CNN presidental debate. Given that, experienced participants may have already anticipated what questions might be asked and prepared their responses to the said anticipated questions. In certain cases, experienced participants rehearse their answers to any anticipated questions to ensure they can deliver them within the given timeframe, but that doesn’t mean that the event is staged. Moreover, anyone who has participated actual formal debates (or any similar events, such as parliamentary procedures) has—at certain points in time—memorized their prepared answers to any anticipated questions or arguments. One cannot expect a participant to come in blind and unprepared for a debate. Anticipating questions and preparing responses, and even memorizing them showcase a participant’s commitment, preparedness, and knowledge of the topic—something that shouldn’t be villainized.
Furthermore, during debates, participants are given time to prepare their responses before they are asked to deliver them within a specified timeframe. Moderators or panelists ensure that one participant has had their time before moving on the next. One cannot simply interrupt a speaker during their allotted time to speak. Again, this isn’t the same bardagulan you have with other people where you can freely interrupt or interject. A participant needs to fully present their point first, which is why most, if not all, of the participants during the CNN debate were able to deliver their statements calmly and logically.
Another factor that most people have failed consider is a participant’s familiarity to the craft. Once you have done something several times over time, it becomes second nature, and you get to do it more confidently; the same is true with formal speaking. Any experienced speaker will have more confident responses to any question thrown at them. To some, it might seem rehearsed while to others, it might seem more spontaneous. It’s all a matter of audience perspective. That is your relative truth as an audience.
I also want to address another allegation made by other people—that CNN is biased toward certain candidates. This is hard to tell since we have limited facts to prove or disprove this speculation. At the same time, one thing is certain: the audience’s bias. Given that this is a political debate, viewers have their own bets and biases. Anyone who has preconceived ideas, biases, and stereotypes against the other candidates that isn’t the one they support will never appreciate the responses of the said candidates regardless how logical, well prepared, coherent, relevant, and spontaneous they may be as biased listeners only listen to respond and criticize and not to understand.