Bill, you ignorant slut…

I would find the new Clinton/Dole, Dole/Clinton point-counter-point nonsense slated for “60 Minutes” merely amusing if not for this (from the NYT):

Mr. Clinton and Mr. Dole said yesterday that they were looking forward to the opportunity to provide the kind of thoughtful commentary that has been missing from the superheated and often shrill discourse that dominates much of television news. “I see this as an opportunity to try to have a really civil debate that enlightens people on the issues,” Mr. Clinton said.

Mr. Dole said the two men expected to “have some fun” but also get into the issues that are roiling the country. “We have differences,” he said. “We went at each other hard in 1996.”

Enlightening people, exploring the issues, and debating civilly are supposed to take place in two 60-second soundbites? This is an absurd notion that only TV can sell. And consider this:

“60 Minutes” has not used the “Point-Counterpoint” segment regularly since 1979, when its most famous participants, Shana Alexander and James J. Kilpatrick, ended a four-year run. But it was always among the most-talked-about segments of the program, television’s most successful newsmagazine. It even inspired a famous parody, the Dan Aykroyd-Jane Curtin combination on “Saturday Night Live” which always had Mr. Aykroyd referring to Ms. Curtin as “Jane, you ignorant slut.”

In other words, this style of “debate” is so politically and culturally important that we can remember nothing of what Kilpatrick or Alexander said; we remember, instead, that Curtin and Aykroyd made us laugh poking fun at this nonsense. And then this:

The old “Point-Counterpoint” segments were a full minute longer, Mr. [Don] Hewitt [executive producer] said, but he said attention spans had shortened since then.

Pretty soon, we’ll be able to conduct civic debate on TV by hurling single words at each other: “Not!” “To!”