"Open-Book" Debate?

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
One final postmortem on the first-of-its-kind and groundbreaking CNN/YouTube debate from the other night.

It was called "freewheeling" and "lively." A "brave beginning." "Provocative," too. The New York Times thought it brought "freshness and spontaneity."

I've got another description for it: "Open-Book Test," a point only raised – from as far as I can tell online – by Tim Russert at MSNBC.

The YouTube debate was unlike previous ones in ways catalogued exhaustively (and more enthusiastically) elsewhere, but its most overlooked trait was the fact that all the questions were available for public consumption as soon as they were uploaded. I could see them anytime leading up to the debate; you could see them. And so, critically, could the candidates and the candidates' communications teams.

Was there any way around this? Not without changing the essence of the event. CNN bragged about receiving 3,000 questions and seemed to show every single one during the day-long leadup on Monday. Indeed, part of the allure of the debate was the sight of the Viking questioner (asking a question about endangered fjords, perhaps?), as well as the guy singing his toilet bowl Biden song.

But the fact remains that the campaigns likely culled the most difficult questions and prepared responses to them, in the event they were asked. Does this make it different from a traditional debate, where the same questions seem to be asked over and over and ….? No, but getting the other team's playbook before a big contest always slants the result.

The YouTube debate was an interesting change of pace, but let's view it (and the future GOP one) with open eyes.