Network Media Coverage of the First Presidential Debate was Fucked Up and Bullshit   Leave a comment

“The place where you put your money is a pretty good indication of where your heart is”

– Mitt Romney, First Presidential Debate

That was about the only truthful thing Romney said during the first presidential debate last night.  He lied about his proposals, Obama’s policies, the state of the economy and health care spending, and most everything else.  It was so blatant that multiple realtime fact-checking efforts read like they’re written by people laid-off by Bain.  Like this one from the LA Times:

Romney B. Lyin

Platonic truth doesn’t exist, but even so: goddamn, son

So Romney lied, objectively, a lot. Continuing his record pace. The other objective thing that happened was that Romney treated the moderator Jim Lehrer like a piece of shit.  Constantly interrupting someone, arguing over rules previously agreed to, and raising hand or voice to silence someone is to treat them like shit.  I hope civilized people can agree on at least that much.

Were these important things which objectively happened discussed on the broadcast networks in their post-debate analysis?  Of course not.  Obviously. What was discussed instead?

Diane Sawyer: “There they are . . . they must be breathing big sighs of relief.”

Chuck Todd: “Romney came across as someone who knew his stuff, who knew the President’s proposals . . . Everything Mitt Romney had to accomplish tonight, he did . . . he looked like a credible alternative.”

Tom Brokaw: “Romney knew his brief . . . He had a cycle of themes . . .”

David Gregory: “Romney was someone who was feisty, who was long on ideas and vision.”

George Stephanapolous: “Romney was able to be aggressive without being offensive.”

Matthew Dowd: “A very close race just got a lot closer.”

This was all fairly predictable.* And for obvious reasons. Mitt’s on a downward slide a month before the election, and that month’s worth of ratings and ad revenue ride on people tuning in to a close race.  It doesn’t take a slide rule to calculate what’s in their interest.

All that’s fairly well-trod ground that’s been true for decades.  But a more subtle examination of the network’s interest, where they put their money, reveals how far away from serving the public interest their hearts are.

David Gregory, my good lad, what’s driving this shallow analysis?

 What about the undecided voter, do we get to the truth of the matter here?  The truth is it’s very difficult to get to that, in part because it’d be better if there were a little bit more follow-up; it’d be better if they could engage each other, interrupt each other a little bit, so we could get to the bottom of something instead of just a list of particulars and some of their talking points.  That’s the limit here.  And so we do focus on who had more energy, who’s more engaging.

Good point, good point, I’d probably agree with it.  But . . . why are there only ninety minutes?  Why is one of the most important and informative political events of the year shorter than the first half of a football game?

That phrasing probably makes it obvious: the networks don’t want to give up the ad revenue and would scream bloody murder if the debates were longer.  You recognize the public interest is being murdered, David, but don’t seem to realize you’re holding the knife.

So the networks choose money over the public interest through the structure of the debate itself.  Their interests are also on full display in their post-debate coverage.  Check out the links doing real-time fact-checking above.  Those are newspapers, a flagging product in a dying industry, struggling to remain relevant, cutting back on staff and equipment and shuttering an entire continent’s worth of infrastructure.  Yet they still have the resources to provide substantive fact-checking in real time.

Here’s the fact-checking job Andrea Mitchell, herself paid millions of dollars per year, put before the American people after the debate.

Mitt Romney objected to Obama’s claim that his tax cuts would cost five trillion dollars.  Where did that figure come from?  Romney has proposed making bush tax cuts permanent, cutting all tax rates an additional 20%, repealing the alternative minimum tax, and permanently repeal the estate tax.  The non-partisan Tax Policy Center concluded that Mitt Romney’s tax plan would cost $4.8 trillion over ten years.  Romney said again tonight that his plan would be paid for, but to pay for those cuts he would have to close loopholes in the tax code, he said, and credits.  But he refused to say which deductions he would get rid of, saying he would work with Congress to make those decisions.

Was there a sentence that the teleprompter cut off that Mitchell didn’t read?  I’ve got the Tax Policy Center’s report right here (pdf), and it says that even under the most generous bending-over-backwards assumptions of which loopholes and credits are eliminated and the economic growth that would result, there would still be a huge drop-off in revenue if the plan were adopted.  According to the exact same source that she just cited as an authority, Mitt Romney’s tax plan is not revenue neutral.  He is promising contradictory things he can’t possibly accomplish.  Why didn’t you mention that part, Andrea?

President Obama said his plan would cut the deficit by $4 trillion.  The president is counting money saved by letting the Bush Tax Cuts expire for people making more than $250,000.  But he’s also counting savings through drawing down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The bi-partisan non-profit Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has called that a gimmick, because those wars were financed in the first place.  And the President is also counting on savings agreed to last year when the White House and Congress agreed to raise the debt ceiling.

First: does this make any fucking sense?  At all?  Federal spending exceeds revenues by a certain amount.  Drawing down the wars would lower that spending.  Why on Oprah’s green earth wouldn’t that reduce the deficit?  In what way is that a gimmick?  The CRFB seems to be claiming that Obama shouldn’t get political credit for proposing “deficit reduction” when things he was going to do anyway just happen to reduce the deficit.  Lolwut, as the kids say.

That seems to be the same tack taken for the debt ceiling savings agreement: it was part of an agreement with Congress, so Obama shouldn’t get political credit for it.  But why the fuck shouldn’t Obama count that as part of his deficit-reduction policy?  It’s his policy.  He signed it.  It’s part of his Administration’s record.  It’s part of the bundle of policies he enacted.  Everything being talked about in the debate is going to be worked out with Congressional approval.  The fuck is going on here?

Also, just as an aside, the exact same CRFB analysis (pdf) Andrea cites which cries “gimmick” also says the President’s budget replaces the methods used in the debt ceiling agreement to cut spending.  Keep fucking that chicken, Andrea.

Even when she gets facts right it’s not responsive to stuff that happened in the debate.

Mitt Romney claimed the President’s health reform would take $716 billion out of Medicare.  In fact, under the President’s health reform law those dollars comes from trimming planned future increases over the next decade, not from cutting funding.  The trims limit payments to healthcare providers and insurers, but do not cost seniors more.  And Medicare’s  chief actuary says that Mr. Obama’s health reform, quote, substantially improves the program’s finances.  Mitt Romney’s claim that his plan would not change anything for seniors and near retirees is true.  His policies would not affect anyone over 55.

Cutting future planned increases is just as bad as cutting stuff now, Andrea.  Later points in time all become now, eventually.  In any event, during the debate Romney tried to claim those future cuts will destroy Medicare because half of hospitals and doctors won’t take Medicare patients.  If your “fact-check” approached the competency of that offered by a newspaper – in real time, no less – you could have told your viewers that the claim comes from a North Carolina TV affiliate using untrained volunteers to cold-call health care providers pretending to need treatment and seeing who turned them down in one North Carolina town.  In other words, that claim has zero validity.  You could have told your viewers that when Romney made that claim in a debate, he had no basis for doing so.

In other words, this entire “fact check” is absolute crap in the things it tries to do.  (This was by far the most substantive one, too.) It doesn’t get to Romney’s howlers about Obamacare’s “board of unelected bureaucrats deciding coverage”, his education proposals, his own contradictory-in-eight-ways health care proposals, or his record as governor.  All of which were checked by newspapers.  As he said them.

NBC brought in $4.2 billion of ad revenue last year.  The total revenue for the broader corporate entity of which the LA Times is only a part was a tenth of that.  And yet the LA Times fact-check was orders of magnitude better than NBC’s.  And was updated in real time.

The networks simply don’t commit the resources to provide a thorough fact-check of the claims in the debates, even though the media reaction to the debates matters much more than the content of the debate itself.  Because that’s not where their heart is.

Why is this a big deal?  No-one reads the real time newspapers stuff.  People glance at the headlines of subsequent coverage about the debate.  But 60 million people were watching those fake and inadequate “fact checks” on network TV last night.  There’s some easy arithmetic right there.

*In a thread on the large Internet community Metafilter, user Atom Eyes posted the following at noon the day of the debate:

I predict the first words out of the mouth of whichever talking head gets the first post-debate word will be “Mitt Romney came out and did what he had to do tonight.” [Chuck Todd!] And then some stuff about how he proved he could “stand toe-to-toe with the president” [Todd again!] and debate the issues without getting flustered. Oh, also about how one or another of his quips (or “zingers”, as we’ve decided to call them) showed a more “human side” of the challenger. And, of course, the obligatory closer: “Hold onto your hats, folks, this race just got a whole lot more interesting!”  [Matt Dowd!]

Which may be why Buzzfeed just decided to say screw it and posted this article summarizing the debate using exclusively the above cliches before it was half over (check out the time stamp at the bottom; the debate started at 9).

No rules here, son

Christ these people. Take some pride in your work, motherfuckers. Even venal and shallow analysis doesn’t have to be lazy.

Posted October 4, 2012 by Ben in Uncategorized

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