The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

October 10, 2012

Could pepperoni spoil presidential debate?

(Continued)

"We know there are a lot of serious topics that are going to be debated and need to be debated," Pizza Hut spokesman Doug Terfehr said.

But Terfehr said the pizza chain, which operates 10,000 restaurants in 90 countries, saw this as a way to ask an "everyday question" that people can relate to. "Pizza seems to be a question everyone understands."

John Dunn, 51, a manager of a data center from North Carolina, said Pizza Hut's question is one that should not be asked during the presidential debate. "This election means a lot to me," he said. "I'd rather ask them a more important question if I actually had the opportunity to ask a presidential candidate a question."

To be sure, because of rules governing the debate, Pizza's Hut stunt may not even be possible. The first Town Hall-style presidential debate was in 1992 and there were not many rules, which made for a lively debate, says Alan Schroeder, a professor of journalism at Northeastern University and author of "Presidential Debates: 50 Years of High-Risk TV."

But since then, campaigns have added many restrictions in their negotiations in the way audience members can ask questions. The terms for this year haven't been made public, but in the past, Schroeder notes that audience members have had to arrive early and write out their questions on notecards, with the moderator selecting among the questions that got the green light.

Even if someone attempts to ask the "Sausage or pepperoni?" question, it's likely they would get immediately shut down. That's because in 2004, campaigns negotiated a rule that an audience member's microphone would be cut off if they start to veer from pre-determined questions.

In any case, Schroeder, the journalism professor, said he doesn't think anyone who makes it into the debate audience will dare pose the question to the candidates.

"It's so unseemly, for a lifetime of free pizzas, to make a fool out of themselves in front of millions of people," he said. "They'd have to give a partial ownership of the company for that."

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