Debate Coverage Offers Varying Opinions

October 4, 2016

By Rich Bodee

“This is the biggest night, 18 months in the making,” said Wolfe Blitzer in CNN’s pre-show five minutes prior to the first Presidential Debate, which took place on September 26 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

The pre-shows on Fox, MSNBC and CNN predicted similar questions and points of discussion going into the debate. The general consensus on the CNN pre-show was that if Trump acts presidential – meaning if he conducts himself with an even tone and a calm temperament – he would come away unscathed. 

Whether you agree with that mindset or not, the prediction was that the ratings for this debate would double the previous record set in 2012 with nearly 100 million viewers. You could chalk that up to the ever-growing and changing influence of social media, but this election has been supercharged with defamatory remarks, advertisements, you name it, across the entire political spectrum. The fact that the most recent polls prior to the debate had Trump and Clinton neck and neck only added to the increased viewership and hype. 

For the most part, the debate went as expected. Donald Trump started off strong by discussing his 2o percent tax cut for big companies in order to keep them from moving abroad followed by an explanation of his plan to tax any goods companies abroad try and ship back to the U.S. Clinton then hit Trump with the crowd favorite, “your father gave you fourteen million dollars to start your business.” 

Clinton’s success was manifested in the confrontation of the birther issue, which has plagued the Trump campaign. Trump did bring up the emails, which was expected, but perhaps missed the opportunity to go after that particular scandal as forceful as Trump supporters would have liked.

My favorite question would have to be Lester Holt’s final question of whether or not Trump or Clinton would support the outcome of this election. It was a nice softball question to end the debate, but we all know what Holt was trying to do. Side note, that question sounded eerily similar to one Fox’s Bret Baier asked during a Republican debate several months ago. 

It is fair to say that both candidates dropped the ball at some point during the debate. For example, Clinton said violent crime has decreased but, that very same day, the FBI released a poll showing violent crime has increased. Trump made a bad call saying Clinton does not have “the look for a president” quickly replacing the word “look” with the word “stamina”.

No candidate presents themselves in a perfect manner, especially during debates. It is up to the American voter to sift through the inaccuracies and find the truth, a truth that changes depending on which network you watch. 

This brings me to my primary focus. What shocked me more than anything, even more than some of the candidates actual responses, is how much the “results” of the debate changed based on the post-debate coverage of various news networks such as Fox, CNN and MSNBC. 

I am training to become a journalist and know very well which candidates certain news networks favor; however, as I flipped back and forth between these three channels, I was stunned by their post-debate coverage. It’s like there were alternate versions of the debate.

Here are a couple of post-debate remarks that really exemplify how our media analyzes each presidential candidate. See if you can figure out which quote I’m referring to.

CNN’s Jake Tapper said, “Trump came out strong for the first half hour, but Clinton’s last hour was better. She used his own words against him.” Debatable, but thank you for trying!

Fox’s Lou Dobbs blamed the liberal media for attempting to “spin the election in Clinton’s favor”, while acknowledging that Trump missed out on several opportunities to attack Clinton. That’s classic Fox News for you.

Finally, MSNBC’s Rachael Maddow said, “Donald Trump is like someone misbehaving and off their medication on a flight.” If that’s considered a substantial analysis of this debate, I give up.

How can it be possible that three separate news organizations, which are supposed to follow a journalistic standard of strictly reporting the news without bias, have different remarks about the same debate?

The good or bad news, depending on how you feel about politics and these candidates, is that we get to do this two more times. Make sure to tune in for the next debate, which is being held on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis on October 9.

boderich@my.dom.edu