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Thanks for the recap and all the comments below; I'm doing a heavy post-mortem on this.

I really didn't expect him to so adamantly lie like that. And then to first be called out by Chris about it and boldly say "Chris, seriously, that is wrong" and then declare that we're making it up -- that takes stones.

I'd really love to know what the best way to confront this in such a format (my first time doing live TV debate).

Is it:

"No, you're wrong. Anti-circumvention provisions affect US sites, US sites with foreign domain names (like .it) are affected, and US companies who would have to remove links from search results are all examples of how you're wrong."

I worry I've lost the average TV viewer by the second sentence.

And then there's dealing with someone interrupting you... I'm curious to see what the HN community thinks about optimally handling that one.

This law is too complicated for the average TV viewer to understand. Debating it on the merits is going to make you lose. You have to find counterpoints that the average TV viewer WILL understand. They have to fit comfortably in a tweet.

When they say, "This is a jobs bill," you say, "This is a typical big government attempt to meddle in something they don't understand."

When they say, "This won't affect American sites," you say, "Search engines don't pirate movies. Neither do Visa or Paypal. Going after them is just unfair." [Note: Search engines. Not DNS. The minute you say DNS you lose.]

When they say, "Google profits from pirated software," you say, "Not as much as the congressmen are profiting from the $95 million dollars in lobbyist money that paid for this bill."

Other talking points: "How come congress can't seem to agree on anything that matters to the country? Unemployment, the deficit... they're totally gridlocked. But when the entertainment industry pays lobbyists $95 million to get a bill they wrote passed, both Republicans and Democrats line up to co-sponsor it."

Trying to say something that actually gets to the merit of the bill is a waste of time on a Sunday morning talk show... it's just too complicated an issue.

I completely agree. Alexis was dominated in this in a few ways.

1. The exec was a complete ass and Alexis didn't call him out for being rude and condescending of alternative interpretations. There was a lot of potential to completely bankrupt his opinion using other perspectives from individuals with less at stake in the fight then this executive.

2. As you pointed out, his counter points were too dense for natural consumption by "average" americans. Its not just DNS but the internet in general is mostly an entertainment to most Americans. You critique of the language modifications that have to happen is dead on.

3. Mr. Cotton had one point and Alexis seemed to wander all over. Judicial process + wholesale theft + non-domestic vs. (Alexis') dense and theoretical arguments revolving around feasibility and implementation.

As tech people, we can all agree that this is important. With out the soundbites, we'll never get the critical mass to prevent this. Alexis did do a good job of maintaining his composure with the really inconsiderate tactics. Just needs to put together a few key "talking points" and hammer. Thats the way this works in these news formats.

I agree with Joel.

I'd further argue that the key talking point should be something like:

This is a battle between old established interests who have long controlled congress's wallet versus the leading innovators in the United States.

Who do you want leading technology decisions in this country? Congress and cable providers or Google/Apple/Facebook/Microsoft?

Follow the money. It's as simple as that. There's a reason why every innovative tech company in this country is against it. This will stifle innovation. Follow the money and you'll see how old established industries who have fought innovation for years are the same ones pushing this bill down the throats of the American people.

Second this. When they say it's a jobs bill, counter with something like this is sending more people to jail bill or shutting small American businesses down bill.

Tell them how one server can be hosting hundreds of American businesses. If one store in your mall is selling fake Nikes, imagine if the entire mall would be raided and shut down?

This bill does that. This bill shuts down the entire mall because of one bad store. Hundreds and thousands of American businesses can be shut down for no reason leaving even more people unemployed.

I understand how much we want to argue about free speech and dns filtering. But welcome to politics. This is where we learn from these folks: talk about the topic of the day. Today, that is jobs. Find an angle to link this shit to jobs. The opposition certainly did. We haven't quite(you made some headway by talking about Ford).

Sadly, I think Joel is right. Format is designed for soundbites.

Thanks, gents. I think this really nails it (I second your sadness).

Numbers about hulu accelerating revenue for the movie industry and actually combating the free pirated ones with a better service might have been a good counter-point followup.


Coming up with easily digestible tweet-size slogans targeting the average TV viewer is not a game we can win. The media will always win at that game. We can't win in the money game either.

I see one thing that could defeat this: convincing smart people who have the ear of Congress that this really is bad. I don't think we have convinced those people. Some may interpret that as corrupt Congress ignoring the people again, but I interpret that as maybe our arguments against it aren't really all that great.

Congress is going to to see these slogans just as they do the "SOPA will break the internet" stories.

Maybe our only real complaint is that we don't want Congress meddling with our Internet and that reason just isn't good enough to convince anyone?

I wonder if holding something in your hands would help. For example, you could hold up a printed study and respond with, "I'm holding in my hands a government report that says otherwise."

I've done two stints on Fox News. The best way to prepare is to watch a lot of Fox News. You will see a lot of people bald-face lying about a lot of things. Fox has advanced lying to a fine art. (Yes, I know this was MSNBC, but Fox is the master.)

You're right, if you spew a bunch of technospeak you will lose the audience. It is important to remember that you are engaging in a performance, not a debate. You might want to consider taking some acting lessons.

The most important thing is: don't get emotional. Don't get indignant. Use a tone of voice that you would use with a child who has told you a fib (or made a mistake). So, for example, don't say "That's a lie." Instead say something like, "No, that is simply not true" and then immediately follow that with a short citation that shows it's not true. Example, "SOPA only affects foreign companies." Response, "No, that's simply not true. Section blahdeeblah specifically refers to U.S. companies..." or whatever. Then immediately transition to one of your own talking points. "And even if it were true that the letter of the legislation exempted U.S. companies (which it doesn't) that would be nearly unenforceable because the jurisdictional boundaries on the internet are unclear..." or whatever.

The second most important thing: know what they are going to say before they say it, and have your answers ready. A crucial part of the performance is appearing secure in your position, and any hesitation or stumble hurts you. So be prepared for them to lie. Expect them to lie. Study their arguments ahead of time so you know in advance what the lies will be. This is not hard to do. The lies are carefully crafted and scripted, and it's unlikely that you will hear one that hasn't made an appearance somewhere before.

I'd be happy to do some debate prep with you if you like.

Thank you. While I've encountered the lies online, it's another kind of shocking when it's to your face, with cameras rolling. I learned a valuable lesson, albeit a depressing one -- I'll be ready the next time. Granted, I'd much rather be thinking about my startups right now, but so it goes.

>The most important thing is: don't get emotional. Don't get indignant. Use a tone of voice that you would use with a child who has told you a fib (or made a mistake).

This, absolutely. For some inspiration on this point, one of the best real-life examples of someone keeping cool on a heated debate show, and neutralizing his opponent in so doing, was John Kerry vs. John O'neil on the Dick Cavett show in 1971.

O'neil opens with a three minute tirade, calling Kerry a 'little man' and 'coward' among other things:


Kerry responds in a completely unreactive, nonplussed, measured manner, and supports his case with data:


Regardless of your opinions on his politics, that's the way to handle such a situation - unreactive, unresponsive, data-driven.

Regarding SOPA, there are a couple points to keep hammering home:

1. The people pirating movies would not otherwise be paying for them if they couldn't get them for free. They just wouldn't buy them. Many of them lack the disposable income, or they are foreigners circumventing DVD region restrictions, or they're just doing it because it's available, etc. (Can you make a supporting case for that with the data? I'm not familiar enough with the issue and available data here.)

2. Businesses that provide innovative delivery options are booming - iTunes Music/TV/Movies, Amazon MP3, Netflix. Torrenting media, even MP3s, is enough of a pain that people will pay for a good user experience (a/v quality, reliability, on-demand, etc., everything torrents lack). Sometimes people will even buy high quality versions of stuff they've torrented and really liked. Companies that take advantage of that opportunity are rolling in it.

3. The content industry has fought every delivery innovation ever - radio, TV, VCR, and now even the Internet. Are we really going to let them compromise the greatest platform for social, political, educational, technological, and business innovation ever created, over a shortsighted attempt to squash the genie back into the bottle so they don't have to adapt and adjust?

As long as no one challenges the assertion that piracy is this terrible thing and the only way to deal with it is to censor the Internet, they'll keep coming back and back until they finally get what they want. On the off chance you haven't read Tim O'reilly's argument on this point, it's well worth it:


and followup:


I think Joel is 100% correct in saying that this law will fly right over the heads of the average TV viewer if it's debated on technical merit alone.

Regarding the lying: you're going to have to expect that. This is a fight the media industry feels is worth winning at the expense of the truth. When confronted with it however it will always look best to give a level-headed and reasoned response. You have the moral high ground and you should keep it.

The same point above applies to being interrupted etc. I think you'll look much more in control and certainly more comfortable if you keep to the format. Having to run interference while your opponent is making their point looks weak. Wait your turn and look professional.

Keep up the excellent work Alexis!

Hit back on the bogus jobs claim. What do you think creates more jobs, the dying business of distributing media in physical form, or the Internet? Americans don't want Congress interfering with the Internet -- it's the one positive and reliable source of job creation in our country. This bill will harm or destroy many young innovative businesses like Reddit in order to save a few old unneeded middlemen who don't know how to innovate.

I'm no expert on debates, but I was paying significantly more attention to your message simply because he was being so rude and obstinate.

For your part, you did extremely well to not even acknowledge that he was trying to interrupt you at all.

But of course, I walked in with a bias on the subject.

Echoing cbo a little bit, I agree that you did well dealing with the NBC GC's interruptions - you were steady even when he was trying to jump in, and as long you have a reasonably effective moderator (like Chris in this segment), you will be heard. Creating that contrast is important - rather than letting it escalate on both sides, you get points for sincerity over obstinacy.

> my first time doing live TV debate

If you were at all nervous about that, it didn't show. Most people (myself included) cannot speak truth to power so easily without being visibly phased. From your comment it sounds like you know the bill to a T, so my one criticism would be that you could have conveyed very unambiguously that he was wrong on three counts (with respect to the bill not affecting US sites). The details that follow might be lost on the audience, but the "wrong on three counts" is what people will walk away with.

In these kinds of debates there's also something about putting on the table the topics that are important for your camp (our camp) not just rebuffing the ones set out by the others.

> Mr Cotton mentioned due process a few times

How exactly does BensFreeMovies.eu (I made that site up) hosted in Netherlands get due process from being potentially banned by the US courts?

If we want to maintain the sanctity of due process then that works both ways and we have to give the defendant the chance to represent themselves. What if that entity's management are nationals of a country not normally allowed to enter the US?

> This is costing jobs

How does stopping Americans from accessing pirating assets that are perceived to be American-owned, but hosted on a foreign site, really help save jobs? The rest of the world can still access said content. SOPA is just about covering the US entertainment industry's eyes so they can't see the pirated content - it doesn't actually make the content go away.

Etc. I would fight back on these kinds of points rather than the trying to philosophically debate at a higher level, sadly. This is how you win hearts and minds with the 'normal' people because you can demonstrate flaws that they can more easily relate to.

I was thinking about defending against lies overnight.

When they lie, you need to quote a chapter and verse. Viewers will take the assertion of whoever sounds like they know the bill best as the truth. If you list section/subsection numbers and recite part of the bill, it will make you more credible than him. If you just memorize a few small parts verbatim you can win the battle.

When they are rude, you need to say something that calls them out on talking over you and evokes sympathy, but isn't rude. The best I have so far in this regard is "Mr. Smith, if I could just be allowed to finish, Mr. Smith, I'd like to add..." But I think a better response is possible that meets the criteria.

Hehe. You and me both. I woke up realizing how much I enjoy mediamatters for calling out this stuff after the fact, while also realizing how little it matters when it's that late.

Should I get the chance again, I'm going to be ready for whatever madness they throw at me.

I emailed the email address on your blog a copy of this, in case you didn't revisit the thread. That's how obsessed I was. :-)

edit: just saw your response. Thanks!

Here's a decent soundbite: how about stressing the threat that SOPA poses to the internet's power to connect the world?

The foundation of the web is links. SOPA attacks any internet company that links to sites that host copyrighted content. Well, Google links to sites that host copyrighted content. So does Reddit, and so does any other company that allows the public to create and post content.

Our founders called this nation the United States of America. United. They knew that where their is unity and community, there is power.

By persecuting companies for linking to illegal content, SOPA threatens the unity and connectivity that the internet provides.

Another option kn0thing: SOPA poses a serious threat to freedom on the internet.

When an internet company like Reddit, HN or Facebook gives its users the freedom to post content, it gives its users the freedom to post anything they like. SOPA introduces the fear that a user might post something illegally. If SOPA passes, web companies could be forced to disallow user freedom altogether.

Invaluable resources like Wikipedia have been created by allowing user freedom. Who knows what incredible resources user freedom could lead to in the future?

By persecuting companies when its users post copyrighted content, SOPA threatens freedom on the internet.

TV viewers really don't care about freedom on the internet or at least not as much as you think they do. And emphasizing it only gives credence to their "lawless internet" point.

Television is not about debate, it's about sound bites.

Television is not about facts, it's about communicating feelings and emotions. It's about painting an image of your opposition.

Memes we need to spread:

The moguls and their political puppets that support these bills are dinosaurs.

These bills were written by lawyers who don't understand that this will break the internet.

These bills are created by "media moguls" or "media elite" afraid of innovating.

SOPA / PIPA needs to be painted as radical and extremist.

Computers and the internet have been the backbone of innovation and economic growth the past 20 years.

The censorship meme (sadly) doesn't matter to Middle America. We need to drop it.

I'd suggest the following talking points and sound bites for the next debate:

-"Kauffman Foundation says that 2/3 of new jobs are created by high growth technology startups. This bill breaks the internet, and kills startups that could be the next Facebook, YouTube, Google or Ebay."

-When faced with the lying... "Are Google, Twitter, Facebook, Ebay, Yahoo all lying then?"

-"Media companies and their lobbyists tried to kill VHS, the cassette recorder, the phonograph, the MP3 player and now... now, they are trying to kill the internet. They were wrong then. They're wrong now."

-"The people who created this bill are lawyers not engineers. They don't understand how the internet works."

-"SOPA and PIPA are radical copyright protectionism"

-"SOPA and PIPA are corporate welfare of the worst kind, protecting industries that are afraid of innovation"

-"We are in the worst economic conditions in a century. This the the worst possible time to ram through radical legislation created to protect media moguls sitting on mountains of cash".

-"In this terrible economy, we need to do everything we can to support technology companies who are one of the few bright spots in this economy"

And... for what it's worth... after we beat SOPA / PIPA, we need a Startup PAC to take a proactive long view on educating legislators and their staffers on these issues, rather than constantly reacting to awful legislation like SOPA/PIPA.

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