Saturday, October 13, 2012

Did Biden really “win” anything?

I feel like I’m becoming a broken record when the subject matter is presidential debates.

But reading the “day after” attempts at coverage of the confrontation Thursday night between Vice President Joe Biden and Republican VP hopeful Paul Ryan makes me wonder about the legitimacy of any of the millions of words that are being spewed.

I REMAIN CONVINCED that most people who pay attention to these events look for clues that can reinforce their previously-held preferences and biases.

The people who are saying that Biden scored a victory, or taught President Barack Obama how a debate should be done are most likely Obama backers. They weren’t going to acknowledge anything negative.

Likewise, the fewer pundits who are claiming a Ryan victory are the ones who weren’t paying any attention to a word Biden had to say.

Once again, I have to confess that I didn’t get to see the debate. In my duties working for a suburban daily newspaper, I was covering a City Council meeting – where the aldermen were grousing that their mayor was taking too long to get through the evening’s municipal business.

THEY ALL WANTED to leave City Hall, find themselves a television and check out the debate for themselves. By the time I got through writing up a story about their activities and planted myself in front of a television, the debate was over.

I can tell you all about the Yankees/Orioles playoff game from Thursday night (although I went to sleep just before the 13th inning – which is when it turns out Baltimore broke the tie and won, sending this round of playoffs to a fifth, and final, game Friday night).

But for the debates? I have to rely on the attempts at reporting that are way overloaded with political spin (that of campaign operatives pointing out specific things to reporter-types in hopes of influencing the tone of the story).

I know what it is like. I still recall one debate I covered (for Illinois governor, many years ago) in which a campaign staffer sat herself down next to me, and kept whispering nasty comments into my ear whenever her candidate’s opponents said something silly.

I SUSPECT NOTHING has changed throughout the years. There was probably a lot of similar activity that took place Thursday night.

Although there was one theme that I couldn’t help but notice in much of the coverage. A lot of the less-blatantly biased news types who were most eager to write “Mitt wins” debate stories last week were now going along with the theme of “Joe rules!”

Could it be that some reporter-types wanted to make the election cycle more interesting by writing stories to make Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney more competitive, only to follow up with stories meant to restore the “balance” by giving the Obama camp a victory now?

If you carry that line of logic out to its extreme, it means that the town hall session scheduled for Tuesday between Obama and Romney will become a Mitt victory, followed up by an Obama victory in the final debate – to be held later this month.

THAT COULD CREATE a scorecard of a debate victory each for Obama and Romney proper, with Team Obama getting the VP battle and Romney getting the town hall session.

Some might think that is “balanced” journalism – everybody gets something in their favor.

Except that it goes against my idea of what debate coverage ought to be – a sense of how the candidates were at confronting each other under  equally limiting restrictions (all those time limits).

It makes me wish that more of my professional counterparts would follow what ought to be the Number One rule of covering any news event – Just write what happened.

INVARIABLY, THOSE KINDS of stories are the most damaging to a political candidate. Just report what he actually said and did. Particularly if the candidate says or does something stupid, it will be reflected in the copy. People are intelligent enough to figure out for themselves who “lost” a debate.

All these attempts to give in to political “spin” is what makes people feel like they’re being given doses of stupidity pills – and which probably caused many individuals to switch the channel away from the debates.


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