October 1, 2004
Watching the Debates
Watching the debate (transcript) with my students turned out to be a great experience, and afterwards, many of them had interesting things to say about their experiences. I don't think I've ever watched a presidential debate with such a large audience, and never with a group of people with such a broad range of political commitments. Like most of the post-debate polls, an informal survey of our students seemed to indicate that Kerry "won" the debate.
I was surprised, or at least intrigued, to see that many of the students felt that "the media" would somehow misrepresent or distort the results of the debate (although we never quite established how the media would misrepresent it). The theme that seems to keep coming up my class is a lack of faith in the media, and while that mistrust of the media is likely justified, I'm hoping to explore that question in further detail over the rest of the semester (among many other questions).
What were your observations about the first debate?
Posted by chuck at October 1, 2004 1:07 PM
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During the debates, I kept a window open with a liberal real time chat and a conservative real time chat. It was interesting to read the differing perceptions. For the most part, the conservatives felt Bush made the better points, but Kerry looked better, and the liberals felt Kerry was wiping the mat with Bush.
All of them, however, made comments about "Lets see the media whores spin this," but it came from both sides. Interesting.
Posted by: Dylan at October 1, 2004 1:50 PM
Not only did Bush seem out of his depth, he seemed tired, frustrated, and defensive. Kerry clearly rattled him on several occasions. Let's hope the SCLM does its job between now and next Friday.
Posted by: Rusty at October 1, 2004 2:08 PM
The spin was happening directly after the debate. Within days, all that will be remembered is who "won" the debate. Commentary afterward once in a while hit on the substance of what the candidates said, but far more often looked at how well they had marketed themselves.
Those supporting Kerry might see this "spin" (not really the right word--treating the campaign as a horserace is a structural bias of the media, not an intentional bias) as benefitting their campaign. Nope. A carry "win," divorced from the wider context and nature of the remarks, ends up carrying little weight in people's decisions, I suspect.
It's really cook you got to see this with your class. Was it just a happy coincidence of course scheduling? Will you watch the future ones?
Posted by: Alex Halavais at October 1, 2004 3:05 PM
Doh... should have read the link.
Posted by: Alex Halavais at October 1, 2004 3:06 PM
I'll join the master narrative and say Kerry got better as the evening passed and eventually "won," but what a worrisome start for both! Winced at Kerry's first response. An opening half-hour of nervousness, crazy syntax (clearly less common for Kerry than Bush on a daily basis), missed opportunities...
I wonder, Chuck, how your class will treat the war for "media" authority over the next weeks of Presidential debate and its attendant spin. This notion of a monolithic The Media and two homogenous worlds of bloggers ("conservative" and "liberal") gets more maddening by the hour. Alleged blog victories over CBS and MSNBC vs. this morning's Froomkin piece in the Post on how much better major newspapers were at factchecking the debate than blogs... An unsatisfactory explanation of how media work, right?
Posted by: dave at October 1, 2004 4:29 PM
I haven't had a chance to read the Froomkin piece yet (my browser crashed when I tried to open the WaPost--I need a new computer badly), but yeah, I'm going to try to talk Thursday about how the first debate was "spun," how that might play into our perceptions of the electoral process.
Alex, you may have noticed that I required students to attend outside of normal class time. I thought about requiring that they attend some of the other debates, but getting a space for that many students is difficult, even in the evenings. A few students stayed after our debate discussion to watch "The Daily Show," which was interesting (wish more students could have stayed). Lots to talk about with my students (and I'd rather not go into specifics yet because I know that some of my students read my blog).
I actually was pretty happy with Kerry's "performance" (style) from the beginning or at least felt that Bush was off his game from the beginning. I liked that Kerry made a conscious effort to portray himself as "direct" in his opening statement. In terms of substance, I'd say that Kerry "won" there, too. Pleased that Darfur came up as an important issue, but disappointed that neither candidate had a satisfying answer (though Kerry's was slightly better IMO). In general, though, it's difficult to predict how that will translate into votes: few, if any, of our students raised their hands when we asked if their minds had been changed by the debate (and, of course, this year's polling results are notoriously inconsistent).
Posted by: chuck at October 1, 2004 6:24 PM
That's neat that you had the class watch the debate, and that's not surprising that fans of both candidates thought the media would "spin" the results. Conservatives think the media is too liberal, liberals think the media provides bush with the "soft bigotry of low expectations".
I personally think Kerry slammed Bush (Bush was at his WORST yesterday), and I was impressed with Kerry. But then again, i'm a liberal. I was frustrated at Kerry's lack of detail about his "plan" for Iraq, his lame-ass excuse for why he wouldn't do something about Darfur, and a few other things. But hey, he's gotta do the vote-grabbing now.
And boy oh boy, for those citizens who have been hearing time and time again from the bush administration that Kerry's a flip-flopper and other attacks, I'm sure they were blown away by Kerry yesterday.
I didn't have much in expectations for Kerry -- I was figuring kerry would be Gore all over again and I assumed that the debate would be a draw. So I was pleased. And so were the 8 other drunk folks at my apt who were all playing a fun drinking game during the debate.
Chuck, yes the Daily Show was definitely worth watching. I was cracking up at it. Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Samantha Bee make me happy.
Posted by: Anjali at October 1, 2004 7:04 PM
I realize now that "surprising" isn't quite the right word, but my main point was that the lack of faith in Big Media seems very low right now. Instead of Woodward and Bernstein, we have Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair. Instead of All the President's Men, we have Shattered Glass and Outfoxed. The comparisons aren't quite fair, but I find that cynicism about the news media rather troubling, especially when it comes to any kind of investment in political process. I know this isn't a terribly new observation, but it's one of the observations I'd like to address.
Posted by: chuck at October 1, 2004 7:33 PM
We were taking drinks any time "Iraq," "Saddam Hussein," or "weapons of mass destruction" were mentioned. Needless to say, we drank a lot.
Posted by: Rusty at October 3, 2004 1:16 AM
Here's a blurb I just posted over at whatever. One big media spin that was particularly bad:
As I noted in my earlier post, the panel of undecided voters were asked directly who won the debate and they all said Kerry. The next night on *NBC*--the channel that ran the debate--the evening news ran a bit that said the panel thought the debate was a tie and they showed a little clip of one of the panel members saying something complementary about both. But this was NOT the final conclusion of the panel. I *could not believe it*! The media has gone so far in its attempt to be "fair and balanced" that they'll lie in order to present themselves as neutral. This is truely pathetic.
Posted by: B at October 4, 2004 12:28 PM
Yikes! That's really irresponsible journalism. None of the polls bear out that Kerry and Bush "tied." You could certainly present a commenter who compliments Bush's performance, but to say that he tied Kerry is entirly different.
And what bothers me is that many of the analyses have begun highlighting Kerry's performance while ignoring, or at least de-emphasizing, his arguments (which I regard as stronger, more effective than Bush's). I'm trying to maintain my faith in the process, but reports like these are very discouraging.[end rant]
Posted by: chuck at October 4, 2004 12:44 PM