Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Debate that Wasn’t

Yesterday I took a rather jaundiced view of the debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney that was “about to be,” which received a comment preferring “to defer judgment until after the event.” Well, it is now “after the event.” As fate would have it, I have been reading another “after the event” article in the latest issue of The New York Review, Joseph Lelyveld’s reflections on the Democratic Convention. One sentence about television coverage continues to stick in my craw:
Though they tend to run as a herd, these toilers [the newscasters], reaching daily and hourly for fresh insights, save us from having to think for ourselves.
This was certainly as true “post-debate” as it was “post-convention;” but the fact is that the herd was not putting very much thinking into the process. Thus, it was unclear what they were doing for us.

The bottom line is that Mark Mardell’s bleak assessment, which I cited yesterday, could not have been better fulfilled. It is as if that collective herd is more interested in aspiring to be Roger Ebert, rather than (to choose a serious media journalist from the past) Edward R. Murrow. The babble is all about the “performance on the stage” rather than what was being performed, perhaps because the latter is a script that we all “know too well” (as Leporello puts it when Don Giovanni’s band strikes up “Non più andrai”). Even the headline on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle (dwarfed by the story about the Oakland Athletics, by the way) looked as if it belonged in the Datebook section.

The fact is that the most memorable moment from the debate may well have been the reference to Big Bird; that may tell us all we need to know about how the media outlets want us to prepare for the election.

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