The New York Times has a news piece today on the SpinSpotter, a new software application that's supposed to help readers sniff out bias in news articles by, among other things, highlighting red flag words and phrases,
SpinSpotter debuted in beta this summer and frankly, we're a bit skeptical about the enterprise just because we think misinformation is more often the product of bad or lazy or sloppy journalism, not bias.
In fact, we couldn't help notice the (ironic) way the Times article concludes, quoting one of SpinSpotter's co-founders:
"We've even talked to some news organizations that are interested in having a version of our service behind the wall," he said, "so they can prescreen their work."
The irony is that's what you call spin. Because unless the founder can name which news orgs are considering installing SpinSpotter, or unless the Times can independently confirm that fact, the claim should not be reported in a news article. Because what entrepreneur, being interviewed by the Times, wouldn't love to claim that his new company was in talks with all kind of (unnamed) clients?
So the article about SpinSpotter pretty much proved our point: We need a software application that cures weak journalism, not biases.
"Aggressive Underdog vs. Cool Counterpuncher" (Washington Post)
"McCain Brings Heat, Obama Stays Mr. Cool" (Chicago Sun-Times)
"Analysis: McCain Intense, Obama Maybe Too Cool" (Boston Globe)
"Debate Sees An Aggressive McCain and a Cool Obama" (The Hill)
"A fiesty McCain, a cool Obama, and appeals to 'Joes' everywhere" (Christian Science Monitor)
"McCain seemed energized; Obama kept cool" (Denver Post)
On ABC's 20/20, in-house conservative Stossel recently poked fun at young voters, suggesting they didn't know enough to vote. To prove it, he conducted some man-on-the-street interviews and highlighted how many young voters couldn't identify Joe Biden or U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. See his report here.
In response, the Oregon Bus Project had some fun and did their own man-on-the street interviews with older voters to see how much they knew about Joe Biden and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. See that report here.
Time's Halperin says McCain won the debate handily, giving him an A- to Obama's B.
Halperin on McCain: "During the first half of the debate, showed off the best of himself -- dedicated, sincere, patriotic, cheery, earnest, commanding--all without seeming old or anxious. Even scored some points in the 'change' category, against the candidate who has owned the theme. ... if a majority of persuadable voters watched the debate, they saw why McCain's advisers have faith in him and still believe he can win this race."
Halperin on Obama: "During the first half of the debate, too often displayed his worst traits--petty, aloof, imperious--and behaved as if he had someplace better to be, although he became warmer and more engaged as the evening progressed. Did not seem to have an explicit strategy; instead, he answered the questions piecemeal as they came his way, without driving a message or even a theme. Retained his consistently unflappable air, and had a few fine moments. If he was sitting on his lead, it worked - but perhaps at the expense of relinquishing part of it."
CNN's poll of debate viewers found that 58 percent thought Obama won; only 31 percent thought McCain won. 66 percent thought Obama expressed his views more clearly; only 25 percent thought McCain did. 56 percent said Obama seemed to be the stronger leader; only 39 percent said McCain. 70 percent said Obama was more likable; only 22 percent said McCain.
CBS polled uncommitted viewers, and found that by a 53-22 margin, they thought Obama won.
UPDATE: CNN's John King keeps trying to spin away CNN's poll, saying he's very skeptical because viewers skewed Democratic. But Campbell Brown has detailed the exact breakdown several times, with John King sitting right there. 40 percent of debate watchers were Democrats, 30 percent were Republicans, 30 percent were independents. If that skews in favor of the Democrats in comparison to the general electorate, it does so only slightly -- nowhere near enough to explain away, as King keeps trying to do, the huge margins by which debate viewers preferred Obama.
UPDATE 2: Further undermining King's skepticism: CNN's poll found 57 percent of independents who watched the debate thought Obama won; only 31 percent thought McCain won.
UPDATE 3: Nate Silver: King is "a little bit out of line in critiquing his own poll, which he's said is skewed toward Democrats (the sample was something like D40, R30). It's skewed toward Democrats because America is skewed toward Democrats! The party ID split in the country right now is very close to 40/30."
Was it just me, or did this pre-debate chatter trigger unpleasant media memories from Denver?
The post-debate pundits are going to be in heaven.
They live for issue-free, "character" centerpieces like that.
Live blogging the debate, Martin claims "Joe the Plumber" is now famous because McCain picked up his story from the Drudge Report.
""Joe the plumber" can thank "Matt theInternetist" for his instant fame," wrote Martin, who noted "McCain first used this anecdote in his economic speech yesterday."
The trouble with Martin's Drudge worship is that The Drudge Report didn't highlight "Joe the Plumber" until day, after McCain started talking about him.
Schieffer just suggested McCain and Obama have been equally negative during this campaign. As false equivilencies go, that's about as bad as you can get.
MSNBC's Mark Murray says Bob Schieffer would be "out of touch" if he brings up Bill Ayers or Jeremiah Wright during tonight's debate:
"I imagine that this debate will be solely about the economy and probably some other domestic issues. You mentioned whether Bob Schieffer or even John McCain might bring up Bill Ayers or even Rev. Wright. But as you look at hte stock market right now where it's actually gone down more than 400 points, it would seem to be a little out of touch to ask something like that."
If Schieffer does bring up Ayers or Wright, and doesn't also ask John McCain why he is "proud" of a his "old friend" Gordon Liddy -- a convicted felon who plotted the murder of a journalist and who has urged people to shoot law enforcement personnel -- Schieffer's objectivity will a real question.
And this wouldn't be the first time. Schieffer moderated one of the 2004 debates, despite the fact that he is a longtime friend of George W. Bush who had previously acknowledged that his personal relationship with Bush made it difficult to cover him. Schieffer's brother was a business partner of Bush's before Bush became president -- and Bush made him an ambassador.
To us, the stories have the same ring as the McCain "comeback" narrative, and that the press seems more interested in injecting some missing drama into the campaign (Obama could still lose!), than advancing real news stories.
The problem, as illustrated by the ABC story, is that despite the breathless headlines, there's very little that's news to substantiate the Bradley effect narrative, which is named after former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American, who he ran for California governor in 1982 and lost, despite pre-Election Day polls showing him with a comfortable lead. The theory was that voters mislead pollsters about whether they would vote for a minority candidate.
The issue is a legitimate one for debate and discussion. It's just that in terms of the press presenting it as a burning news issue right now, there were few if any examples of The Bradley effect during the very long primary season. Polling pro's say there hasn't been a clear example of the Bradley effect in decades. And the Obama campaign claims the notion is absurd:
"I think this is a completely overblown story," said Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, saying concerns about hidden racism skewing polling data are "ridiculous."
Despite the lack of empirical evidence, the Bradley effect lives on, fueling anxiety and nervousness among many Democrats that Obama's lead will disappear on Election Day.