English: American broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite (b. 1916) on television d by Library of Congress
One of the unfortunate by-products of the evolution of the news business to a public service during the era of Walter Cronkite, to the present ratings bonanza competing with the likes of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, is that - with the exception of a few brilliant, thoughtful, people like Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes - many in the mainstream media have come to rely on cognitive shortcuts, in which snapshot judgements become over-generalized and stereotyped. Sadly, I have found that to be true even on MSNBC, especially in the daytime. The recent lackluster performance by President Obama in his first debate with Mitt Romney, is a classic case in point. I was reminded of that this morning, when I heard many of the already memes about the debate repeated by Thomas Roberts.
In fact, Robert Wright points out some impressive polling evidence that the media hype after the debate had a greater effect on the popular reaction to the debate, than the debate itself. In other words, the media amplified the difference in performance between the two candidates far beyond what people who simply watched the debate, would have thought. He also points out that the expectations of the media - an Obama win - were not supported by the evidence from past Obama debate performances.
The fact that Romney was more aggressive, and Obama failed to challenge him on his many lies , has been growing into some ridiculous extrapolations that were not warranted by the actual facts of the debate. Here are some of the memes I've noticed of late:
1) "Mitt Romney was more 'presidential' in that first debate." Mitt Romney was highly aggressive in going after the moderator, a bit shrill in his delivery, and of course, completely dishonest in his facts. This is presidential? In some ways, the problem Obama had was that he was too presidential - failing to make the transition from staid incumbent to scrappy candidate in that first debate.
2) "Mitt Romney had 'command' of policy in the Denver debate." I don't understand how you can have command of anything that exists in reality, while lying your head off. Steve Benen, on the Maddow blog, explores just the latest in " Mitt's Mendacity ," among the best in post-debate fact-checking. Romney misrepresented his own tax plan, as well as the policies of Obama several times. If this shows "command," then our coverage of politics and policy in 2012 is hopelessly lost.
3) "Romney 'moved to the center' in the first debate." Similarly, I don't see how Romney can be seen to be moving to the center, when he disowns his past positions, and likely misrepresenting his future plans should he be elected president. As Shannon O'Brien - Romney's opponent in the 2002 gubernatorial race in Massachusetts - pointed out over the weekend on MSNBC, Romney showed himself to be totally untrustworthy in his debate promises. Particularly ironic in this video, was his insistence of his pro-choice bona fides, while actually calling O'Brien "unbecoming" for challenging him on that.
If our politics have become so shallow, that we judge candidates purely on the basis of aggressiveness and confidence, then why bother having policy discussions at all?