Wednesday, October 06, 2004

MSNBC's Post-Debate Coverage Measures Strength, Not Facts

Most of the major networks -- NBC, CNN, ABC -- seemed to suggest last night's vice-presidential debate was a draw.

But not the folks at MSNBC.

"It was an extraordinarily strong performance by Dick Cheney," said Joe Scarborough, MSNBC host and former Republican congressman.

"Will the liberal press admit that Cheney won? That's a very good question. I think that the vice president did very, very well. He turned in a strong and serene performance, compared to Edwards," said Jon Meacham, Newsweek Managing Editor.

"I don't think the well-rehearsed and well-briefed senator from North Carolina was ready for the assault," said Hardball's Chris Matthews.


The other networks also had fact checkers at their disposal. MSNBC used correspondent David Schuster to count "buzzwords" from the candidates, like "Iraq" and "Kerry."

Matthews was particularly impressed with Cheney suggesting he'd never met Edwards -- a statement that Edwards (after the debate) said was wrong, and other observers said was untrue, citing several meetings of the two, including a prayer breakfast and the swearing-in of Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC).

"It was all the points about attendance record— that's tremendous amount of homework the Republican candidate for V.P. did here.," Matthews said last night. Remember, Matthews is paid to make blustery snap judgments. Facts be damned, it sounded good, he essentially told his audience.

Matthews' cohort, Andrea Mitchell, made a similar statement, when she offered: "I think Dick Cheney did awfully well at, first of all, putting John Edwards in his place, saying that I have been presiding over the Senate and I didn't meet you until tonight."


Maybe it would be tough to know immediately whether Cheney's statement on Edwards' attendance record was true. That might take some researcher a few minutes to look up (although responsible journalists might have waited to comment until they knew the accuracy of the claim).

But are the folks at MSNBC really paid to tell an audience that Cheney looked strong and serene? Isn't their job to fact-check, to fill in the gaps when either candidate utters a half-truth? Isn't that the very basis of analysis?

The New York Times this morning tallied up more than a dozen half-truths or misrepresentations from Cheney. Edwards, who on several occasions during the debate suggested Cheney was being misleading, was only cited a couple of times by the Times.

And yet, Matthews and company didn't see fit to discuss factual errors -- from either candidate -- in the initial thrust of their post-debate coverage.

Had Cheney never beofre suggested a connection between Iraq and 9/11? That seems easy enough to fact-check. The Times knew the statement was at best a half-truth, but Matthews and company were too busy complementing Cheney's strength and serenity.

Will 900,000 businesses be negatively affected by the Kerry tax proposals? Again, it would be easy to find an expert to say this is untrue. The Times cited the Tax Policy Center, for example.

Was Edwards wrong to cite Halliburton being under investigation. Does Edwards -- as Cheney suggested -- "know the charges are false"? The Times knew that Edwards was correct in his assessment. MSNBC didn't care.

Was Cheney correct to say -- as he and Bush have said numerous times on the campaign trail -- that Kerry voted for 98 tax increases? Certainly, the MSNBC crowd should have seen this one coming, and if they'd done their homework, they would have concluded, as the Times did, that this is a misleading claim -- including multiple votes within the same legislation. Edwards said that Kerry had voted or supported 600 measures to cut taxes. I don't know if that's true or not, but MSNBC wasn't interested in covering that either.

Finally, Edwards reeled off a list of votes from Cheney's term in the House. He didn't support Head Start, Meals on Wheels, the release of Nelson Mandela, etc. Pretty scathing stuff. The sort of red meat that could have been discussed by Matthews and company. Or Matthews could have found a GOP spinner to defend those votes.

But Matthews and Scarborough, et al, were too concerned with Cheney's strength and serenity to notice.

And they wonder why voters are uninformed and uninterested in the process ...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the NY Times is right and Cheney distorted -- if not outright lied -- about Kerry's tax voting record in the Senate, and about the impact of Kerry's tax plan on small businesses, the distortions should be front page news on every newspaper in America.
Why isn't it?
The same can be said about the Edwards appropriately citing federal investigations into Haliburton. Why is Cheney allowed to raise a smokescreen by wrongfully labeling factual info a smokescreen?
I wish I had the confidence that as many people read the NY Times as the "Hicktown Tribune" or the "Backwater Bungaloo."
Cheney's tenuous arguments could likely impact the way some undecideds vote. The media therefore has a responsibility to hold up statements by Cheney, as well as Edwards, to intensive scrutiny.
Unfortunately, instead we can expect most newspapers in America to repeat Cheney's dubious claims ad naseum into the next month, without any proper acknowledgement of the NY Times findings or any challenge at all. Then, the media will have achieved the right's intended purpose of raising doubt in peoples' minds.

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is sad that most people, particularly when it comes to debates, care less about the truth than the appearance of the candidates. This includes the media. I did not catch Hardball last night but it sounds like they did not do any homework. Basically in a debate it is up to the debaters to counter inaccuracies/spin where they can. This is what Bush failed to do in his debate.

The way I see it is that the public doesnt disect the facts from a debate--it is an overall "feel" they are looking for. Kerry won big (by a mile on style and by a little on substance) in his debate since he looked, sounded and felt strong and resolute. At the same time, Bush seemed indecisive, small and weak. The combination was terrible for Bush.

In the VP debate, I believe Cheney was the stronger-felt stronger and more resolute (especially on substance)----like a well armed machine. Edwards is more likeable and charming but came across as a bit young/naive at times (this was cheney's plan of course but it did work to a degree). Overall,Edwards did pretty well but Cheney took the day. His type of personality/intelligence is difficult to beat soundly in any debate. However, the VP debate matters little. Bush needs friday night-at least a draw and he will erase the memory of the first debate. If he loses the debate friday, it spells serious trouble for him.

1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So you're agreeing with Hardball -- style (strength) is more important than substance (accuracy) when it comes to Cheney?

Isn't that the wrong way to decide what ticket to vote for? You like his strength, the way he put Edwards down, but the fact that Cheney might have been lying throughout the debate doesn't matter?

3:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I am saying is how the public will see it. The public is not factchecking throughout a debate and therefore will judge it not just by what is said but by how it is said. This works both ways---Bush's bungling has made many a joke the last four years. No question it would be great if everything said was truthful but that is not what the debates are about. That is why each participant must be his own advocate and call the other on inaccuracies when they occur. Noone else is going to-at least not in time to make a difference. Debates are about how the candidates appear--this is why people tune in.

My own personal opinion: I believe half of what ALL politicians say is complete crap and of that half, half of it is intentionally false. It is harder on the incumbent when the record is not great as is the case this year. Bush has to try to defend the record--and people generally know the record. Most people, other than far rights, are not going to vote for Bush because they think he has done a bang up job thus far. Those that vote for him just think he will do a better job than Kerry. The challenger is always more of an unknown, more so this year because of how Kerry has run his campaign. Yet, the challenger can make zillions of empty promises because noone knows the future. In Kerry's case, his outsourcing fixes are garbage (and he knows it), tax reforms are suspect, his plan for iraq is not much different from Bush's, his view of how much to rely upon the UN is suspect at best.....yes, he says he can do better but who knows? Promises are just hopes. The true reason to vote for Kerry is on issues where he completely differs from Bush---stem cell, religion overall, abortion.... these issues + the degree of hatred for Bush. That should be where Kerry gets his votes. [I doubt many will vote for him because they think his Iraq plan will work as written.]

This also shines light on just how embarrassing it was that Gore could not win in 2000 - convincingly. He had a record that he could easily stand on and failed. He just wasnt likeable. Again, appearances make a huge difference in the american public opinion. Now maybe that is sad, pathetic or just a shame, but it is the truth.

6:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Debates serve the role of letting the candidates speak for themselves. Anyone watching can see if they come across as strong or naive or what have you. We don't need Chris Matthews to tell us what we can see for ourselves.

We need Chris Matthews and his researchers to point out the obvious -- that Cheney and Edwards had met several times, that Edwards was right to point out that Cheney called for weapons cuts as defense secretary, etc.

10:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Debates serve the role of letting the candidates speak for themselves. Anyone watching can see if they come across as strong or naive or what have you. We don't need Chris Matthews to tell us what we can see for ourselves.

We need Chris Matthews and his researchers to point out the obvious -- that Cheney and Edwards had met several times, that Edwards was right to point out that Cheney called for weapons cuts as defense secretary, etc.

10:30 PM  
Blogger don dzikowski said...

Truth should always triumph over style. The media's job is to keep a scorecard on truth, not reflect bias.
It is reassuring the increasing number of reports churning out this week, such as the Newsweek item published today, pointing out Cheney's many distortions/lies on Iraq during the debate. The unanimous belief appears to be that Edwards' few distortions were small by comparison.
But I hope the public comes away with one thought from the vice presidential debate.
Cheney said he would do everything "the exact same way" in Iraq despite everything he knows now.
This sums up the entire problem with this administration. It cannot solve any problem on the economy or Iraq because it stubbornly refuses to acknowledge what the problem is or that there even is a problem in the first place.

6:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The media has been all over Cheney for his misrepresentations. Fine. This may sway those who didnt watch the debate and are listening to the news to detremine who won. So what-that is no different than listening to polls results. Basically, I dont believe that debates make any difference except for those who watch. And for those who watch, they make up their minds while watching, not based on the commentators views the next day. So unless the candidates are somehow called out when misrepresenting, it is too late. And i agree that what people may take from the VP debate is that Cheney is the status quo....that was the overall feel from what he said and did. I also think people should have taken from the first debate that Kerry could be presidential, strong and firm-again that is the manner in which he debated, not necessarily about what he said. That is what a debate is about.

10:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree that the debates do not make a difference.
I think Kerry's dramatically improved poll numbers this week speak volumes . And even some of the most recent battleground state polls in states like Florida and Ohio taken since the debate show remarkable improvement for Kerry.
I hope Kerry again mops the floor with Bush this Friday night. If this happens, combined with the new concrete evidence this week further whittling away Bush's past cause for war, I would expect Kerry to next week start to show the kind of comfortable leads Bush enjoyed before he stumbled over himself last Thursday.
I don't think Bush's damage control speech in Pennsylvania yesterday will help much. He reiterated AGAIN widely disproven spin about Kerry's global test comment and about his tax-cut plan, i.e. wrongly alleged to impact 900,000 small businesses and raise taxes for all but the highest income bracket.
If the broader media would do its job and make an effort to report Kerry's true positions, instead of carefully manufactured Republican bullsh--, Kerry would win this election in a heartbeat.

10:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to go off subject a bit.

Memo to Kerry:
How to win this election.

Hammer home the point that you voted for War authorization (which authorized war as a last resort)based on Bush's representations of WMD intelligence, as well as his clear representations before congress he was using the legislation as a scare tactic to shape up both the UN and Saddaam.
Despite what Bush says, in no way shape or form did I see the same intelligence as Bush in making my decision. A senator in no way has the same acess to intelligence as the commander-in-chief and president.
(I've read one report which estimated that Kerry had access and saw about half of the intelligence that was available to Bush).

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree with the comment that debates don't matter.

Here's why they do: If Cheney is willing to lie about something as small as meeting Edwards, or try to say that Halliburton dealing with Iran under his watch is merely a Democratic "smokescreen," then what does that say about the man?

How many viewers knew that Cheney, as a congressman, voted against Martin Luther King Day, Head Start, Meals on Wheels, and a resolution condemning the continued imprisonment of Nelson Mandela?

And, to Edwards' credit, how many people knew that Kerry had voted or supported 600 tax cutting measures? (It would be nice if Kerry said that, too).

What the conservatives don't want to admit is that much of the "Bush doctrine" goes against conservative government theory -- high deficits, bloated government size, a reckless foreign policy, etc.

Some of that may have come to light during the veep debate. Not that MSNBC noticed.

12:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dont see anyone saying debates dont matter. They most certainly do because they allow the public to see the candidates' personalities--how they convey their message when it is not canned as in a stump speech. So the debates do matter, FOR THOSE WHO WATCH. Or maybe for those who catch some soundbites. However, the soundbites are the problem-they are similar to stump speeches in that they dont give the overall story or in the case of the debates, the overall sense of each candidate. While the post debate coverage matters a bit, the true strength of the debates is the opinion of those who watch. And debates certainly shape those opinions-because of style more than substance but that is another issue altogether. Hearing the president got beaten in no way shapes opinions compared to watching it happen. Friday nights debate should be watched by many in light of last week's debacle for Bush. Of course, Friday nights are not the best television nights as people do have lives outside of this. So we will see. Bush needs to draw or win; otherwise big trouble for him.

I disagree with the comment that Kerry would win in a heartbeat if..... there is no way he can win this election in a heartbeat if the media portrays a centrist analysis. He can win but not by alot. Not with this ridiculously polarized country with people on both sides blind to reality. The only way he can win easily is if some world event played into it-a new event, not a reiteration of the older existing ones. I believe if Kerry can win this next debate and not step on himself the rest of the way, he has a good chance. But it will be close.

3:46 PM  

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