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Debate Op-Ed 10/11/2012 Gwen McIntyre The Presidential Debate: Did Anyone Win?

At about minute five of the latest Presidential debate, a strange scene popped in my head. The two candidates were sparring in such a fashion that it reminded me primarily of the hilarious scene in “Bridesmaids” when Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne battle to get the last word in on an engagement party stage. Needless to say, the spectacle was less hilarious when it starred Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The constant interruption of host Jim Lehrer really sold the romantic comedy-esque hilarity of the night. I didn't watch the recent election parody comedy “The Campaign,” but I imagine it was similar to last Wednesday night. This was not the most presidential look either man could have put forward at the debate. Although some media outlets have collectively decided that Romney “won” the debate, whatever that really means, I was struck with the sense that neither candidate really stood out in the way that their respective campaigns had hoped. What did stand out, however, was the extreme air of pettiness the debate took on. When Romney interrupted Lehrer, because he felt he deserved the last word this time, he seemed like an overexcited high school debate team leader. Unfortunately, next to Obama's sleepy performance, this was a welcome change. The bullying of moderator Jim Leher made Romney look like the mean kid in class, while Obama's passive performance was boring at best. When each candidate consecutively told their almost identical “real person on the campaign trail” story, it felt cheap and fake. Worse than the way each candidate performed was the content of the messages. After Wednesday night, countless factchecking organizations published laundry lists of “half-truths” or “mostly false” statements that both candidates made. To anyone who has seen a presidential debate before, this was probably not very surprising. But why is this the way that we have come to accept that debates are? Shouldn't the moderator have the


power to end a candidates monologue if we've figured out a way to do it for Oscar speeches? Why are the rules more strict for an awards show than a presidential debate? Additionally, with fact checkers only a swipe of the iPhone away, how have we not figured out how to call candidates out on their lies and misrepresentations as they happen, rather than on partisan channels hours later? New America Foundation, a non-partisan think tank in DC, actually live fact-checked the debate on Twitter. Now that campaigning, with social media followers meaning as much as donations, has reached the 21st century, why hasn't debating? The debates have become a theater, a spectacle. However, they aren't even particularly persuasive spectacles. Debate winners tend to only enjoy a 1-3 point gain in the polls. Although a three point gain seems like a leap rather than a jump in the tight race this year, the gain doesn't even come from the debates: it comes from the media coverage afterward. The media is who wins after the debates are over. A juicy debate grants broadcasters hours of viewer friendly recaps, analysis and criticism that over generalize and over-play gaffes. This year, one of these juicy clips seems to be Mitt Romney's pledge to “fire Big Bird� and cut funding to PBS. Although there is a real discussion to be had about the merits of public service educational television, it seems from the media coverage and social media that the main takeaway people had from the debate was suddenly remembering Sesame Street. In the end, the debate made both parties look bad. However, unbelievably, these sub-par performances netted positive impacts for both campaigns. Mitt Romney enjoyed the prestige of being declared the first debate winner, and sequentially won more donations as Republicans were reassured that he has a chance to win. The Obama campaign, on the other hand, gained donations from Democrats scrambling to make up for the President's poor performance. So, the questions remains: did both candidates win-or neither?

Debate Op-ed  

Op-ed written for a Public Relations Writing course after the first presidential debate in the 2012 general election.

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