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.