Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Veep debate morning after
One of the disadvantages of living on the left coast is that by the time I'm caffeinated enough to think coherently, my blogging colleagues on the other coast have said most of what needs to be said about overnight news like the debate.

In case you haven't looked around yet, the best bit of fact checking is the revelation of at least three earlier occasions where Cheney met Edwards. Kos has all three right next to each other. The best one to throw around is probably the 2001 prayer breakfast where the tape shows Cheney welcoming Edwards by name. The problem with this kind of fact checking is that most people will only see the clip from the debate; they won't see the following corrections. Most news venues will have moved on to other stories by the time the correction is circulated. Cold blooded liars like Cheney depend on the short attention span of the professional news media. They know that 80 percent of the audience will only hear the lie, so a good memorable line is more important than a truthful argument.

I only watched a little of the post-debate blather, mostly on MSNBC. The MSNBC coverage was an example of Chris Matthews at his very worst. In general, Matthews' heart is in the right place and he is often very good at cutting through the official versions and browbeating people into telling the truth. Too often, however, he behaves like a four year old on too much sugar. His mouth runs ahead of his brain and he starts inflating his metaphors for the pure joy of the rhetoric. He loses track of the point of the discussion and just wants to be the center of attention. Before the debate he was already in the grip of the excitement, competing with Scarborough for the best prediction about how Grandpa Cheney was going to put that young wipper-snapper in his place. After the debate he started babbling about how Edwards brought a squirt gun to fight a machine gun--no, no, a howitzer.

I was amused to see the reaction of Matthews and the panel to the first insta-poll from Matthews website. After about fifteen minutes of convincing each other that Cheney had not only won, but won by a truly historical margin, the poll came in showing a five to one preference for Edwards. They all sputtered for a moment before taking refuge in the fact that this was not a scientific poll (as opposed to their spouting, which would meet peer review standards for any major scientific journal). They had all (except Ron Reagan) convinced themselves before the show that Cheney was going to win big and in the aftermath were mostly concerned with congratulating themselves for being so perceptive.

I did find the insta-polls interesting. I'm sure most of the reason for Edwards' margin was that the Democrats did a better job stuffing the ballot box than did the Republicans. This, by the way, is an encouraging sign for the Democratic get out the vote effort next month; we're never this organized. I wonder if there were any real voters hidden in the insta-poll results. I wonder how amny people were seeing Edwards for the first time? The talking heads and internet political junkies are familiar with both candidates and have well formed opinions at this point. We judged the debate on that basis. But how many viewers knew little about Edwards other than that he is a young pretty face? The constant harping on his youth and inexperience might have backfired on the Republicans. Edwards came across as compitent, informed, and calm. He might have come across as a reassuring surprise to many who were expecting a Democratic Quayle.

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