Watching the news online, it was clear what the debate story was today:
Washington Post television critic Tom Shales, in an April 17 article headlined "In Pa. Debate, The Clear Loser Is ABC," described the debate as "another step downward for network news -- in particular ABC News, which hosted the debate from Philadelphia and whose usually dependable anchors, Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, turned in shoddy, despicable performances." Shales added that the debate "dwelled entirely on specious and gossipy trivia" and "seemed slanted against Obama."
Time magazine's Michael Grunwald, in an April 17 article headlined "The Democrats Play Trivial Pursuit," wrote, "Obama's memoir dripped with contempt for modern gotcha politics, for a campaign culture obsessed with substantively irrelevant but supposedly symbolic gaffes," and added, "Last night at the National Constitution Center, at a Democratic debate that was hyped by ABC as a discussion of serious constitutional issues, America got to see exactly what Obama was complaining about."
In an April 16 article on Editor & Publisher's website, Greg Mitchell wrote, "In perhaps the most embarrassing performance by the media in a major presidential debate in years, ABC News hosts Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos focused mainly on trivial issues as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama faced off in Philadelphia. They, and their network, should hang their collective heads in shame."
You don't need to go to Daily Kos to find cries of assent to these assessments.
Greg Mitchell writes on HuffPo:
In perhaps the most embarrassing performance by the media in a major presidential debate in years, ABC News hosts Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos focused mainly on trivial issues as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama faced off in Philadelphia. They, and their network, should hang their collective heads in shame.
Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the health care and mortgage crises, the overall state of the economy and dozens of other pressing issues had to wait for their few moments in the sun as Obama was pressed to explain his recent "bitter" gaffe and relationship with Rev. Wright (seemingly a dead issue) and not wearing a flag pin -- while Clinton had to answer again for her Bosnia trip exaggerations.
Then it was back to Obama to defend his slim association with a former '60s radical -- a question that came out of right-wing talk radio and Sean Hannity on TV, but was delivered by former Bill Clinton aide Stephanopoulos. This approach led to a claim that Clinton's husband pardoned two other '60s radicals. And so on. The travesty continued.
More time was spent on all of this than segments on getting out of Iraq and keeping people from losing their homes and -- you name it. Gibson only got excited complaining that someone might raise his capital gains tax.
The Philly Enquirer's poll has, at the time of this writing, about half of all views rating the questions as "terrible, a waste of time."
Even ABC admitted that the heat was on. As MSNBC noted:
By midafternoon Thursday, more than 15,600 comments were posted on ABC News' Web site, the tone overwhelmingly negative....
..."Why not have Paris Hilton moderate next time?" one poster wrote. One man repeated the word "bad" 48 times. A sampling found opinion was running against the network about 8-to-1.
Did the message sink into the skulls of Gibson and Stephanopoulos?
"The questions were tough and fair and appropriate and relevant," Stephanopoulos told The Associated Press. "We wanted to focus at first on the issues that were not focused on during the last debates."
The criticism comes with the territory, he said. "It's one more sign of how engaged people are over this election," he said.
Engaged on a higher level than ABC was willing to present, apparently.
It didn't help to learn that presumably George Stephanopoulos was throwing questions seeded by right-wing commentators.
But watch the NewsHour, and the story is all about the petty issues.
LINDA DOUGLASS: Well, certainly they expected the questions on Reverend Wright. Certainly they expected the questions on the statements that he made about small-town America being economically depressed and turning to guns and religion. They expected all of that.
But it was the relentlessness of it, the fact that they didn't get into health care, or gas prices, or college tuition, or whatever in the beginning that I think took them aback. They were prepared for many other kinds of questions.
And you could see that Obama himself was becoming irritated. But the one thing you can't do in a situation like this, if you are the candidate who feels aggrieved by how the moderators handled you, the one thing you cannot do is blame the press for the questions they ask. That never works as a tactic.
Enough about armchair quarterbacking. What about the facts?
MARGARET WARNER: So, Brooks, in defending himself, based on your analysis, did Obama stretch the truth in any way?
BROOKS JACKSON, FactCheck.org: Well, yes. One of the things for which we're criticizing him is that he said that, in regard to that lapel pin, the American flag lapel pin, he said, "I never said that I had refused to wear it."
Well, in fact, less than a year ago in Iowa, he told a TV interviewer that after 9/11 he had decided not to wear the pin because it had become, in his view, a substitute for true patriotism, which is upsetting a lot of people and being talked about.
So he's engaging in a little bit of rewriting his own history.
You really have to see the video where Brooks Jackson and Linda Douglass smirk with self-satisfied pride over their easy proclaimations as "the facts."
MARGARET WARNER: And, Dan, do the Obama people feel that some of these issues that were brought up last night, these personal issues or things he said or associations he's had, do they think they're really invalid or do they actually think these are potential vulnerabilities?
DAN BALZ: Well, I think they certainly recognize that the controversy over Reverend Wright is likely to be a problem in the general election. I think at this point they think they have weathered most of these in the nomination battle.
All of the polling that came out over the last few days shows no particular damage from the comments he made at the San Francisco fundraiser about how small-town Americans are bitter about their situation and cling to guns and religion and things like that.
I think they believe that -- I mean, I know they were quite worried when that erupted. I think they think that that has not been a serious problem.
Again, the Old Media are stuck in their Old Story. Even when they are the story. Even in the face of criticism, they insist upon focusing on trivia rather than on things that matter.
Lapel pins? Who "loves America more"? Puhleez! I'd have expected more from the NewsHour, but they were as lazy as ABC. Something to remember during the next pledge break.