Should any one be surprised by the fact that the ratings for Friday night's presidential debate, once put in historical perspective, were rather mediocre? (Eleventh best overall, to be exact.) Or why, with approximately 57 million total viewers, the debate attracted only ¾ of the audience the co-chair of Commission on Presidential Debates predicted they would, and 40 million fewer than what MSNBC's Chris Matthews confidently predicted last week?
Despite the relentless media hype about the debate, there's no big press mystery about the lackluster viewership. The debate was held on Friday night and on Friday night not as many Americans stay home and watch TV. (Nielsen has known this for approximately three decades.) And that Friday night (non) viewing pattern is even more pronounced during the fall football season.
Why the commission, whose stated mission is to expose as many viewers as possible to the candidates, chose to have the first, and usually most important, debate on Friday night always struck us as being slightly coo-coo. But almost just as odd was the fact that the Beltway press last week, busy dissecting every last angle of the debate preview story (what the topics would be, who ran the candidates' debate practice sessions, etc.) steadfastly refused to raise the issue of a Friday night debate. For most reporters and pundits, Friday night seemed like a perfectly normal time to broadcast a presidential forum.
That notion, along with the way-off predictions that 80 or 100 million people would tune in, just seemed to highlight how out of touch the political press often is with folks beyond the Beltway.
Late last week NRO's Greg Pollowitz mocked the press for not making a bigger ruckus when the AP reported that reporters had been banned from a photo op between Joe Biden and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili in Milwaukee.
According to Pollowitz, that was exactly like the GOP's Sarah Palin not allowing reporters to ask questions when she recently sat down with world leaders at the United Nations. Exactly. And look at what a big deal the press made about that!
At the time, County Fair suggested Pollowitz needed to post an update because the AP report was flat-out false; reporters had been allowed into the Biden session.
In response, Pollowtiz, instead of updating his off-the-mark post, added a new item at his NRO media blog. It consisted of a single sentence--"Looks like Biden did have press in the room with him when he met the Georgian President"--and then he cut-and-pasted sections from the updated AP story, which acknowledged the error in the Biden article.
What Pollowitz failed to do was to note that had used the bad info to claim the press had a double standard in terms covering Biden and Palin.
Hey, if the AP could `fess up to its blunder, why couldn't NRO?
Why doesn't journalist Zev Chafets just start an online fan page for Rush Limbaugh? Or become his caddy or park Rush's many cars? That way he'd be able to express his deeply felt admiration for the mighty right-wing talker without taking up valuable space in major newspapers.
You'll remember in July, Chafets spent nearly 8,000 words genuflected before Limbaugh in the pages of the New York Times magazine, where he effortlessly whitewashed Limbaugh's hate speech and portrayed him as a brilliant political strategist. (Y'know, the brilliant strategist who last winter announced John McCain could not be the GOP nominee.)
Today, Chafets recycles the same talking points and peddles them off to the Los Angeles Times for a op-ed, where once again the Limbaugh crush is advertised for all to see. (Chafets received an email from Rush!) In the Los Angeles Times, Chafets again proclaims Limbaugh's political smarts, bows his his unparalleled GOP power, claims he just may sway the election in McCain's favor and, or course, dismisses Limbaugh's critics as people who don't actually listen to his show and can't appreciate the uncommon wisdom that Limbaugh dispenses.
Actually, Media Matters listens to evey minute of every Limbaugh broadcast and one of things Media Matters heard last week was when the talker said this about the Democratic nominee for president:
"He's Arab. You know, he's from Africa. He's from Arab parts of Africa. ... [H]e's not African-American. The last thing that he is is African-American."
Yet for some reason in his Times column, which specifically addresses how Limbaugh talks about Obama, Chevets plays dumb about Limbaugh's race-based attack on the Democrat.
That, according to Howard Kurtz who points to zero evidence to back up the claim, and doesn't even try to explain how he came to that partisan conclusion.
Meanwhile, the entire Kurtz dispatch from the debate really is an instant classic since it's littered with gems like this:
Some of the journalists who profess to want an elevated debate on the issues--which is precisely what they got, courtesy of Jim Lehrer--seemed unusually interested in style points.
See, it was unusual for Beltway journalists to focus on style points, according to Kurtz, whose job at the Post appears to be to present the press corps in the most flattering, hard-working and serious light possible.
And what a week it was. NPR's "On the Media," recaps.
The Oregonian on Sunday joined more than 70 newspapers across the country (most located in swing states) in distributing, as paid advertising, the controversial, right-wing DVD titled "Obsession," about the threat of radical Islam. The Oregonian included the insert, dubbed by one critic an "alarmist manifesto," over the objection of Portland's mayor who feared the anti-Muslim DVD it would unnecessarily raise tensions in the community.
And that, "distributing with the Oregonian lends the video an impression of objectivity and legitimacy it does not deserve."
Editor & Publisher has been covering the unfolding Obsession/newspaper story for weeks and has the latest here.
The Oregonian's publisher, like many others, claimed the newspaper simply treated the DVD like any other insert and that it would not reject it based on whether he agreed or disagreed with the DVD's contents.
Yet we can't help wondering if another "alarmist manifest" DVD arrived at the newspaper next week that targeted a different religion, or perhaps a minority group, or even a specific politician, whether the publisher would use the same guidelines when acceepting or rejecting the insert.
The ones he mentioned on Sunday's MTP? That's what Nicole Belle at Crooks and Liars wants to know. Specifically, the NBC/WSJ numbers Brokaw sited, "in all fairness" (his words), to show most Americans think John McCain is better equipped to be Commander in Chief.
Problem is, Belle says the numbers Brokaw used don't really exist in the latest NBC/WSJ poll.
An AP article posted on Sunday over at Fox News online with the headline, "Conservatives Begin Questioning Palin's Heft" seems to have been mysteriously yanked.
See The Brad Blog for more details.
In the post-debate spin room, should journalists at least try to differentiate what's being said? Jeralyn at TalkLeft notes as an example Nicole Wallace's claim on CNN that Obama would raise taxes "on the vast majority of the American people."
Over at time.com, they're liveblogging the debate with two people, somebody who writes about politics (that's Karen Tumulty) with somebody who watches TV for a living (that's Jim Poniewozik). And wouldn't you know, it's the TV writer who makes this key point. After he referred to how McCain had "suspended" his campaign, Poniewozik explained the use of quotation marks around the word suspended:
The quotation marks need to be used, because this term has been parroted too uncritically. McCain has given interviews, done speeches, run ads, raised money and sent out surrogates. Essentially the man took a plane ride and got the media to call it a suspension.