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Posts Tagged ‘media’

Yesterday our own David zomGergen told you of the spontaneous revelry that engulfed his home neighborhood of Harlem the other night. (Didn’t you hear?)

It was a similar scene in our nation’s capital, as noted on the new blog Curbside/Shoreline. And, as that writer pointed out, Nov. 5 was also an exciting day for newspaper publishers across America, although likely not the dawn of a long and lasting change of the kind bearing down on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Here’s the difference, noted by others already: People didn’t snatch up papers yesterday to get the news. They did so to have a keepsake, a physical remembrance of an historic event. Today and onward, we’ll go back to getting news and information in the ways we find most convenient for us — and those increasingly involve pixels and power supplies. As long as unique moments in history remain few and far between (and by definition, don’t they?), the dead-trees business will likely continue to see its profits, and relevancy, slip.

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After the past week or two, it seemed if some people were expecting Sarah Palin to fall on her face tonight on the way to the podium, to stammer unintelligibly for 90 straight minutes, to contradict every single position John McCain has ever taken, to refer to moderator Gwen Ifill as “Aretha,” to admit she can’t find Alaska on a map, and to suddenly being licking her microphone.

And so — shock of shocks! — Palin did none of those things in tonight’s VP debate, so she must have “won”! Or at least, she must be showered with positive punditry because she didn’t drag the entire McCain-Palin ticket down in a gigantic fireball that would have even made The Huffington Post feel a tinge of empathy.

After the performance Palin had put on recently in the company of Katie “The Intimidator” Couric, there was certainly a well-warranted feeling that Palin might finish the job tonight and kill the McCain campaign once and for all.

Come on now. We all know how debates work. When you’re stumped by a question, you brush it off and go back to the talking points — the ones you’ve had weeks to practice. Obama does it, McCain does it, Biden does it and tonight, Palin did it. You can’t quite get away with that in a one-on-one sit-down. That’s why Palin’s run-ins with Couric have been so disastrous. But debates simply aren’t set up to allow those kind of calamities.

So of course Palin surprised us or exceeded expectations. Or didn’t qualify for ward-of-the-state status with her debate performance. This was essentially the immediate post-debate analysis offered on NBC by the likes of Chuck Todd and Tom Brokaw. Geraldine Ferraro even came along to say she was pulling for Palin not to screw up and was pleased to declare she hadn’t. (Ferraro acknowledged that Biden made stronger policy arguments — how f’ed up is American political discourse when this is basically an aside?)

What no one seemed to talk about right away — perhaps out of fear of being accused of piling on the poor woman, or perhaps because they were so breath-taken by Palin’s demonstration of being able to repeat talking points — was the fact that Palin’s presentation was, while not the catastrophe many may have been expecting or hoping for, nevertheless shaky and at times uncertain and at other times clearly coached and rehearsed.

Biden had his wobbly moments too — curiously, particularly right after he appeared so strong in rebuking Palin’s “the surge will work in Afghanistan” suggestion — but not as many as Palin’s, and his delivery was miles ahead. Palin seemed nervous, a bit clunky in making what were frequent and abrupt transitions from one topic to another one, and unquestionably in less command of her material than Biden was of his.

The problem here, since as I said above we need to be worried about policy, after all, is not so much that Palin didn’t have the polish that Biden seemed much more able to display. The problem is that when Palin was at her best, she was also at her most vague. Doubtless her coaches knew what kind of stuff sounds best and most natural out of the lipsticked mouth of that great arctic pitt bull. Keep it general, keep it fluffy, keep it “Joe Sixpack.” Talk about your family, about “small-town” stuff, and freedom and shining cities on a hill and of course, praise the hell out of John McCain. All that is easy stuff compared to getting down and dirty with tax policy, foreign affairs, military strategy or constitutional theory. Little wonder, then, that Palin mostly tried to steer clear of such wonkish territory and kept coming back to the “glittering generalities.”

Biden came armed with facts and data and mostly had solid command of them. Palin tried to toss voting-record mud at Biden and Obama only to see a fair bit of it deflected back. Soon enough she realized she probably wasn’t going to win an argument over the nuances of Senate votes by regurgitating someone else’s talking points to a man with nearly 36 years in Congress.

Certainly instant debate analysis from the talking heads is something to be wary of (Obama-McCain I was universally declared a tie only to have public-opinion polling suggest otherwise, to Team Obama’s pleasure; and already, there’s good news for Obama-Biden after tonight’s debate), but that doesn’t lessen the frustration of witnessing the media air their confusions and ingorance on live television for the world to see.

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