The Presidential Debate–What’s the Media’s Role?
By Suzanne Spurgeon, Founder, Women Media Pros
An estimated 60 million Americans were expected to watch the first Presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. And now we’re all debating the debate. Was there a clear-cut winner? A CNN/ORC telephone poll gives it to Romney by a landslide. I think later polling will be more divided.
From Fox News to ABC to CNN, many political commentators are giving Governor Romney high marks—some saying it was his best debate ever, and he did a lot of debating through the GOP primary season. We definitely saw a more assertive Romney in a real fight for undecided voters. He attacked the President on big tax breaks for failed, green energy firms, an area where the President is vulnerable. And he held his own, on some key issues.
The President didn’t implode in Denver, but to me, he seemed off his game. He began by wishing his wife a “happy anniversary”, and then he talked about his late grandmother, and how important Social Security and Medicare were to her. This should play well with female voters and seniors. But was it enough?
For me, the biggest surprise was what we didn’t hear from the President. What happened to the “47%” attack? In ninety minutes the President didn’t say one word about it. Could he be saving it for the next debate, or did his team opt to take the high road? I think we will see a different President Obama in the next debate. A good deal of Governor Romney’s debate prep time was dedicated to countering an attack that never came.
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform & Consumer Protection Act got lots of play during this debate. Certainly an important topic, but I wonder how many viewers know exactly what it is, or will admit to having only a basic understanding of it?
From the spin rooms to the anchor desks, every word will be sliced and diced for days. Behind the scenes the fact-checkers have perhaps the hardest job, separating fact from fiction. But long before the fact checking and poll results, viewers make up their own minds. No surprise that citizen journalists share their views immediately on every conceivable social media site. This may be an even better barometer in 2012 than any official polling.
I found the non-verbals rather telling. The President looked annoyed at times, but loosened up and smiled more as the debate went on. He chose not to look at Governor Romney much of the time. He did look directly into his head-on camera and spoke straight to the American public, which can be effective. Governor Romney chose to look at the President often, but I think I detected a bit of a smirk at one point. Still, these pale by comparison to past Presidential debates. Remember?
Al Gore sighed, Richard Nixon sweated, and George HW Bush checked his watch. The media made a big deal out of all those non-verbal missteps. And the public listened.
As close as this election is, this debate and those to follow later this month, may actually sway some voters. Conventional wisdom says, most of the millions who watch Presidential debates, have already made up their minds and are simply cheerleaders for their candidate at this stage. I believe the media, traditional and new, have an obligation to the public to report both sides of the issues. We see too many journalists giving us their opinions. I am not against political commentators, but solid, “just the facts” reporting is important.
Stayed tuned for the next debate and the media’s dissection of the messaging and the messengers.