We realize we're entering pet peeve territory with this topic, but we can continue to be amazed that reporters seem blind to the idea that having the first presidential debate on a Friday night pretty much guaranteed that viewership would be, relatively, soft.
The New York Times is latest to look right past the obvious.
ABCNews.com's Terry Davis and Rigel Anderson reported that "[Sen. John] McCain's top policy adviser hammered [Sen. Barack] Obama for a set of prepared remarks which incorrectly assumed that the bailout would pass," but they did not note that both McCain and another key McCain campaign adviser prematurely touted McCain's role in achieving passage of the bill.
That's what sources tell Gawker the newspaper's owner did. They say the piece was seen as "an embarrassment," which was why no writers would put their names to it. Instead, the byline read, "Daily News Political Editors."
On Sunday's Meet the Press, NBC's Tom Brokaw allowed McCain strategist Steve Schmidt to falsely claim that John McCain had called for Don Rumsfeld to be fired. That's an old lie that the McCain campaign had abandoned long ago -- but Brokaw let Schmidt get away with bringing it back.
Even worse, Brokaw ended the segment by announcing -- "in fairness to everybody here" -- that the "latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll" found that John McCain "continues" to lead Barack Obama on the question of who is "best-equipped to be commander in chief."
Yesterday, Nicole Belle at Crooks and Liars pointed out that the numbers Brokaw read did not, in fact, appear in the "latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll."
Now MoveOn says they contacted NBC -- and "it turns out Brokaw was referring to a poll taken weeks ago--right after the Republican convention and well before Friday's big national security debate. And in each of NBC's last two polls, Americans chose Obama over McCain."
MoveOn thinks Brokaw should apologize.
That's a good first step. He might also want to figure out a way to reassure the public that he'll do a better -- and more fair -- job when he moderates the October 7 presidential debate.
He probably won't spend much time doing that, though -- his days are apparently pretty full acting as NBC's liaison to the McCain campaign. In that role, Brokaw works to assure the McCain camp that "Mr. McCain could still get a fair shake from NBC News."
After Brokaw's performance on Sunday, NBC should be scrambling to assure the Obama campaign of the same thing.
During an interview with CBS on Monday, John McCain complained about "gotcha" reporting. He was referring to the fact that journalists over the weekend at a campaign event overheard Sarah Palin answer a question from a voter regarding her position about Pakistan. It was a position that seemed to differ with McCain's.
When Katie Couric brought up the incident, McCain denounced the incident as "gotcha" journalism because Palin had been speaking with a voter.
That strikes us as odd. Because Palin pretty much refuses to answer question from reporters on the campaign trail, that leaves them little option but to seek out her exchanges with voters. Or does the McCain camp consider entire campaign events to be off the record for reporters?
When Barack Obama made controversial comments to supporters at a fundraiser and they were reported online in April, his campaign did not complain about "gotcha" journalism. And when Bill Clinton was taped on a campaign event rope line attacking Vanity Fair, the Clinton campaign did not complain about "gotcha" journalism.
According to today's NYT article, Brokaw has served as a point person between NBC and the McCain campaign; the guy who helped smooth over ruffled feathers.
Is that really what the host of MTP should be doing off-camera?
CNN's Tom Foreman falsely claimed that Sen. John McCain "has always said" allowing young people to set up private Social Security accounts "is not instead of Social Security; this should be in addition to Social Security." In fact, McCain supported President Bush's 2005 Social Security proposal, which would have allowed workers to divert up to 4 percent of their wages into a private account, thereby removing it from the money available to pay Social Security benefits for current retirees.
On MSNBC Live, Andrea Mitchell followed Contessa Brewer in airing a heavily cropped version of former President Bill Clinton's remarks on Meet the Press in which Clinton seemingly declined to respond in the affirmative when asked by Meet the Press host Tom Brokaw if he would say he "admire[s]" Sen. Barack Obama and "think[s] he's a ... great man." Mitchell called Clinton's comments "hardly an endorsement" of Obama and "not as effusive as you would expect." But Mitchell did not air or otherwise note Clinton's statements moments later that he "certainly admire[s]" Obama and that Obama's "greatness will ... become apparent" when he is elected president.
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.
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.
On CNN, John King read a statement issued by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in response to Sen. Barack Obama's citation during the presidential debate of Kissinger's support for direct negotiation with Iran without preconditions. The statement read: "Senator [John] McCain is right. I would not recommend the next President of the United States engage in talks with Iran at the Presidential level." But King did not point out that, contrary to Kissinger's suggestion, at no point during the debate that night did Obama suggest that Kissinger had previously endorsed presidential-level talks between the United States and Iran.
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.
On Thursday, the cabler started running the controversial spot that CNN had rejected and Fox News personalities had criticized. Late Friday, MSNBC reversed course and announced the ad, produced by independent liberal groups, would no longer run.
A new Associated Press article about seven top aides to Sarah Palin defying a subpoena in the Alaska Troopergate probe notes that the state Senate Judiciary chairman who threatened to hold the aides in contempt is a Democrat.
Then, in the next paragraph, the article noted that the state's Attorney General "filed a lawsuit on behalf of the seven state workers Thursday challenging the subpoenas. He claims the committee has no jurisdiction to issue subpoenas in the investigation."
But nowhere does the article tell readers that the Attorney General is a Republican ... a Republican who was appointed by Sarah Palin.