Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Predictability in Presidential Post-Debate Analysis

After Friday’s debate between the two presidential candidates, I wasn't sure what to make of it. I thought it was a fairly even performance, both candidates had their "gotcha!" moments. I wondered what the broadcast media would make of it, so I flipped back and forth between the post-debate coverage of MSNBC, CNN and Fox News.

The structure of the coverage was remarkably similar: First the "anchors" gave a fairly mindless regurgitation of the "dramatic moments" and biggest bones of contention. Then they checked in with the spokespeople from each campaign, who both claimed that the debate was a real momentum shifter in their candidate’s direction.

On CNN, Wolf Blitzer muttered something interesting under his breath. While introducing an Obama spokesman, he said something to the affect of “And here’s so-and-so from the Obama campaign. I wonder who they think won.” This offhand sarcastic remark got me thinking. Why would you put someone on the air when you know exactly what they have to say to keep their job? What’s the journalistic value of a sound bite like that? Who cares what the ultra-partisan spin-doctors think? They're not expressing an opinion.The anchor might as well say, “The Obama and McCain camps both think their candidate won.” That takes care of it.

After the spokespeople performed, it was time for the network commentators to duke it out. Maybe it was naive of me, but I was really expecting an intellectually honest discussion to help me make sense of the remarkably even debate. But no such thing happened. It was like campaign spokespeople all over again: the conservative commentators on MSNBC claimed McCain "won" and gushed about how well he showed his experience and his "real life" examples. The liberal commentators said they thought McCain under-performed and Obama "won" citing the attention he paid to the middle class.

Where’s the intellectual honesty? This isn't amateur boxing event with judges tallying points after each question. Listening to the commentators was like listening to fans of rival sports teams yell at each other. Everyone stayed steadfast in their ideological groove. There was no analysis whatsoever, I was pissed.

Debates aren't for people who have already decided who "won" before it even begins; they're really for undecided and swing voters. I think journalists often forget that, especially in this polarizing election like this one. Journalists, anchors and even commentators should be decoders, not cheerleaders. It's fine to have an opinion as to won did better in the debate, but be intellectually honest about it! Provide a public service instead of servicing each candidate publicly on television. 


M. Dery said...

Funny, not-safe-for-work kicker. But this thing sprawls around, barking its shins and trying to get its bearings, for two grafs before it finds its focus. Most readers would be off into the wild blue yonder by then. Concision, man, concision. The Blizter graf is where this post truly begins. Write, then edit; a gimlet-eyed re-read would have inspired you to lop off the first two grafs' worth of throat-cleared, I suspect. Also, you've got a great insight here, expressed with real verve and wiseass wit, but you barely nibble around the edges. Okay, so the networks wheel out partisan hacks who ventriloquize their bosses (and political bases). The bigger question is: WHY? Why does this pass for Deep Insight, in network news eyes? THAT's the question to answer. Combing for essays or studies of this question, on mediacrit or political websites, might have turned up an answer---or answers---to this fascinating question. Also, not sure the first-person is needed, here. Blogstyle is off-the-cuff and in-your-face in many (though not all) instances, but reader needs to CARE that you're "pissed." Why does that matter, here?

M. Dery said...

P.S. SHORTER is better. Flensing off those first two grafs would have trimmed this down to fighting weight.