A historical and analytical look at the uses, abuses, and future implications of presidential debates, by Jamieson (Communications/Univ. of Texas; Packaging the President, 1984; and Eloquence in an Electronic Age, 1988) and Birdsell (Baruch College), consultant to the Congressional Management Foundation. After a brief discussion of the history of presidential debates (a tradition going back as far as Washington, although in the early days the debates were often held between surrogates for the candidates and were of a much more academic nature than our current image-conscious brand), the authors catalogue the problems that debates currently pose. The main one is, of course, that they are really not ""debates"" at all, but rather ""joint press conferences"" in which the candidates know exactly what will be asked and, for the most part, have their snap two-minute responses down pat. The authors argue that ""by minimizing confrontation, requiring brief responses, and spreading discussion across a smorgasbord of topics,"" debates sacrifice most of their educational value for the voters. To correct this, there would be a tree confrontational round; a televised press conference set up to determine how the candidates stand up to tough scrutiny; and lengthy conversations to add a quieter, more philosophical dimension to the campaign. Though the authors' suggestions are unimpeachable, one suspects that the media age has circumscribed the possibilities for image-minded campaign managers to allow their candidates to be zeroed in on too closely. Nevertheless, a good try.