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News Execs React to McCain Debate Delay - Broadcasting & Cable

News Execs React to McCain Debate Delay

News organizations greet McCain proposal to postpone debate due to economic crisis as latest twist in dramatic political season.
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News executives greeted Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) announcement Wednesday that he wanted to postpone Friday's presidential debate due to the U.S. financial crisis as yet another twist in a political season full of twists and turns.

"It's only the latest drama in what is going to end up being the most dramatic campaign season we've had," said Jay Wallace, vice president of news editorial product at Fox News Channel.

"The only thing that is expected in this presidential election is the unexpected," said CNN political director Sam Feist. "And that was proven again today."

McCain, the Republican nominee for president, said he would suspend his campaign and return to Washington, D.C., where lawmakers are hashing out the details of the government's $700 billion bailout plan to revive the troubled financial system.

McCain’s Democratic challenger, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), said Wednesday that he was prepared to go forward with the debate.

"It's my belief that this is exactly the time when the American people need to hear from the person ... who will be responsible for dealing with this mess," he said at a news conference.

The Presidential Debate Commission said it would proceed with the Sept. 26 debate at the University of Mississippi, just as news divisions were proceeding with their plans to cover it.

CNN's Election Express bus and several political correspondents were already in place in Oxford, Miss.

Fox News had plans to send correspondents and anchors Thursday, including Shepard Smith, a Mississippi native who attended the University of Mississippi.

"We rarely know more than 24 hours in advance what the candidates are doing," Feist said, "so we're always flying by the seat of our pants."

If McCain does decide to forgo the debate, it will not be easy to reschedule. The planning and security make it all but impossible to relocate the debate to a different date or venue. Television time is negotiated months in advance. And with the broadcast networks in the thick of fall premieres, finding an acceptable alternative to roadblock hours of TV time would be very difficult.

"There is a limited window of opportunity," Wallace said. "Security at these things is months in the planning. And the networks are not going to want to give up real estate. It's crunch time with the fall shows coming on and the baseball playoffs. The networks are there to make money. They're already challenged by the sagging economy. The window is Friday night."

"America is glued to this election," Wallace added. "And I think all of us are hopeful that [the debate] happens."

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