Thursday, October 4, 2012

Take Me Out of the Ball Game

It's late.  I don't particularly want to talk about the debate, both because we just live-blogged it and because, quite frankly, it was boring.  No real hits, no really memorable lines, no big flaws on either side (though if you reacted the way Mandi and I did, you thought Obama was a bit rambling and Romney was a bit creepy).

So instead, let's talk about the place of spin, punditry, and general game-theory in politics.

Because of the rise of 24-hour news cycles which have lots of "news" channels that have lots of air time to fill - and yet seem to have no real desire to do investigative journalism (which is expensive and work-intensive, and doesn't always result in high ratings), we have developed a bizarre sports-type model to our political system.

Sports are good.  Particularly when you have Eddie Murray.

I like sports.  I rarely have time to watch sports right now, but I do love watching football on TV and watching baseball live (baseball on TV is just kind of slow to me).  I loved playing sports when I was younger.  I have a serious competitive streak.  I think it's healthy and fun to spend hours talking about sports teams.  I think it's probably fun for people who watch ESPN to listen to endless commentary and analysis about process in sports.  But politics and sports are two very different things.

CNN uses a hologram to talk to a reporter, when Skype would do nicely.

The problem with TV "journalism" in a 24-hour news cycle is that it becomes entirely about process and the superficial.  24-hour news stations love visuals, pithy comments, and talking about strategy.  I suspect that's because it's more work and less exciting (for most people) to talk about policy and research.  That's how we end up with "analysis" being entirely "how do you think he did?"  and "I think he did/didn't do what he needed to do tonight.  [Insert sheer opinion here.]"  These "analyses" are generally based on personal impressions, how the candidates looked and acted, and expectations set up for what was going to happen and any dramatic "moments" created.  These impressions/opinions tend to leave out policy, fact, and you know, political analysis.

Romney, confessing his love for Snooki.

While I enjoy hearing about how different segments of the population respond to different things, and I can talk about superficial, personality-driven concepts with the best of them, I want people to vote on policy.  I want people to think about and learn about policy.

I love James Carville, but CNN brings out the worst in him.

We had a debate tonight that contained almost no elucidation of what either candidate wants to do in the next four years.  We gleaned almost no new information about either candidate's view of the place of government.  We simply got a reiteration of stuff that anybody who has been listening to any of the news on this election already knew.  So then we got "analysis" by people like the usually wonderful James Carville, who talked about who "seemed like they wanted to be there."

Come on, really?

We all agree this is an important election.  It's one of the only things that Romney and Obama seem to agree on (well, it's so hard to tell what Mitt actually thinks that I want to hedge that statement, but you get the idea).

The generally great newsman Jim Lehrer, who just didn't show up tonight.

And yet we get a moderator who barely asks any questions, certainly offers no actual follow-up questions or challenges when a candidate obfuscates, rambles on (Obama) or even outright lies (like Romney saying Obama wants to take money out of Medicare, for example).

And then we get a bunch of talking heads who just want to help mold how we perceive things based on what they think will go over the best (there's always this feel of desperation to get the right "impression" - to "lead" but have the public follow your opinion in these post-political-event "analyses").

Romney Aide Eric Fehrnstrom, letting you know what you think.

Then we go to a "spin room," so that campaigns can tell us about what we just saw, to try to convince us that our own reactions are not valid, that no matter what happened, their candidate really won.

Here's what other voters think, in real time...

With CNN we even helpfully got a dial on the screen with the candidates, showing the reaction of Colorado voters - so that we can pay attention to how other people perceive what the candidates are saying, rather than thinking about what we think about it.

Then CNN did an instant poll, to "scientifically" determine the "winner.". As if the debate were a sporting event and what matters is a few people's instant reaction, rather than what you learned about the policies each candidate would pursue and whether that helped you decide which way to vote.



  1. I agree with the sports analogy. At least CNN (if other networks carried it, I don't know) seems to want everything to be able to be broken down to quantifiable scores. Like the chess clock in the corner -- I think after the debate CNN spent a lot more "commentary and analysis" time talking about a 4 minute difference in the amount of time used (out of what was it, 90 minutes?) than any policy point that was debated. And what is the deal with that ridiculous green and yellow line at the bottom? Not the first time I have seen it, and it still seems completely useless. Someone somewhere is thinking "plus sign" right now. Huh? In practice, it doesn't seem to mean anything other than "someone is talking right now, so these green and yellow lines move up - aren't they pretty?"

  2. I actually think it's more sinister, I think it's saying: here's how you should judge the quality of what's happening above - by how many of our chosen people like or don't like what's going on. Forget any actual thoughts in your head.

    I mean, yes, there is a "winner" and a "loser" of an election. But it's not a game.

  3. We watched it on one of the Big Four channels, where there was nothing (thankfully) at the bottom of the screen. I did feel perturbed at Obama for continually talking for longer than minutes, so I almost wished that there had been a little time-clock in the bottom corner.

    Apparently, ABC Livestream was curating tweets on-screen, which seems like a fantastically bad idea. Let me focus on what they are saying so that I can digest it. Then, if I want to hear what others thought about it, I will watch the pundits break it all down (we turned it off immediately after).

    I think they both did a decent job; it wasn't a slaughterhouse, but I did see what YBGP pointed out earlier; Romney is not as relate-able. That smile he had on seemed to be an attempt to put on the charm, but it just seemed like he was smirking through the entire event. It didn't sit well with me.

  4. So I now have a working theory: women don't like Romney's debate face. You are the fifth woman, Abby - of all different ages and backgrounds - that I have heard say basically the same thing.