ONE PARTY FIGHTS, ONE DOESNT: Ifill should have been dumped from her debateback in 2004: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 2, 2008
NO BUNGLE LEFT BEHIND: Wonderful news appears to reside on the front page of this mornings Post! Needy Students Closing Test Gap Under No Child, the headline says. Maria Glod offers the summary:
Glod quickly offers a taste of the evidence: In [Marylands] Montgomery County, for instance, students in poverty have earned better scores on Maryland's reading test in each of the past five years, slicing in half the 28 percentage-point gulf that separated their pass rate from the county average. But theres a groaning methodological blunder in that type of statistical reasoninga type of statistical reasoning which dominates the Posts analysis. Can you identify the blunder? (Though its obvious when its explained, well guess that most people will not.) Well correct Glods paper tomorrow. But heres a question weve been asking for decades: Do they ever report on floundering kids without committing basic bungles themselves?
THE SEARCH FOR MCCAINS CONDESCENSION: Was McCain condescending/insulting/contemptuous toward Obama during Fridays debate? Thats a matter of opinion or judgment, of course. That wasnt our reactionin real time or after watching the debate a second time. And yet, a major journoa name so big it would rock your worlddoes feel that McCain behaved this way, he has told us by e-mail. And this is a dude we much like.
As weve noted this week, some writers who screamed the loudest about this supposed outrage (on Saturday) didnt seem to register such outrage in real time. Its clear that Joe Klein was just making it upwas getting in line with emerging Group Wisdom. About the others, you can judge. But on one part of this intriguing story, the public has semi-weighed in.
As part of its newly-released poll, Pew asked 832 people who watched the debate to give a one-word impression of McCains performance. (They also asked about Obama.) Here is the question they asked:
This type of question is commonly asked by pollsters, though it almost always leads to errors by journalists, who think the numbers which result are percentages, not raw numbers. (Example below.) In this case, a small bit of light gets shed on one question: To what extent did average voters think McCain was insulting/contemptuous?
For the record, these 832 registered voters thought Obama did a better job than McCain. 72 percent said Obama did a good or excellent job; only 59 percent said the same of McCain. But very few voters seemed to notice McCains insulting/contemptuous conduct. That doesnt mean that it wasnt there. But it does raise a political problem for people who thought that it was.
What one-word replies did viewers offer when asked to describe McCains performance? Before we show you the most common answers, here is the Pew reports summary:
Very few voters seemed to see the shockingly rude and dismissive conduct James Fallows belatedly bleated aboutthe incredibly condescending attitude Atrios recalled from those radio clips (by Saturday afternoon, that is). According to Fallows and Atrios, McCains conduct was shocking, incrediblebut few Pew voters seemed to see this. Here are the most frequent one-word reactions voters gave when asked to describe McCains performance. Remember, these are raw numbers. These are not percentages:
What one word would we have offered? We wouldnt normally answer such questions. But of the words found on that list, we would have ruefully gone with aggressive. Ruefully, we thought McCain was driving the debate. We were surprised when polling suggested that voters thought Obama had won.
At any rate: Of 832 debate viewers, 18 offered the word condescending; 13 others said angry. (A bit farther down the list, nine other viewers said arrogant.) For the record, this survey was conducted from Saturday through Monday. Its possible, therefore, that these viewers reactions were affected by post-debate public discussions.
This doesnt mean that John McCain wasnt shockingly rude or incredibly condescending, of course. But uh-oh! It would suggest that very few voters perceived his conduct that way. Fallows, of course, is a sensitive fellow; we recall how deeply upset he was by Al Gores character, eight destruction-filled years in the past. But theres a political problem when liberals scream about shocking conductif no one else sees that its there.
Was McCain shockingly rude, as Atrios said? That strikes us as a vast overstatementand it seems that voters didnt see it that way. But then, we arent that sure that Atrios saw it that way, based on his first two posts.
Easy to be hard: You know things are bad on the liberal web when even Kevin Drum bungles this topic. As he looked through the new Pew poll, Kevin thought those raw numbers were percentages. He thus fell in line with the herd:
Yow! Kevin thought that 18 percent of viewers had called McCain condescendingthat nine percent called him angry. And then, he fell in line with the herd. He said this was the price McCain paid for acting like a jerk.
But uh-oh! In real time, Kevin didnt think McCain behaved like a jerkor if he did, he kept the thought to himself. This was the Wrapup to Kevins live-blogging of the debate. In the full ninety minutes of his live-blogging, Kevin had mentioned McCains deportment only once:
In his wrap-up, Kevin forgot to mention the way McCain had behaved like a jerk. And please note the cosmic irony here. In his second paragraph, Kevin rolled his eyes and mocked the way conservatives would soon invent a Group Story. If they say it often enough, they figure eventually everyone will agree with them, Kevin said.
In fact, conservatives have behaved that way for years; so has the mainstream press corps, although toilet-trained career liberal writers have tended to run from that fact. But yesterday, it was Kevin who was getting in line with a storya story he didnt tell in real time.
By the way: In real time, when did Kevin mention McCains deportment? Like Josh, he mentioned it very late in the debate, after receiving an e-mail. (In this case, Kevin named the e-mailer; it was TPM poster Todd Gitlin.) Like Josh, Kevin had somehow managed to live-blog the debate from 9 oclock to 10:24 without mentioning John McCains lack of eye contact, or any part of McCains vile conduct. (Josh held out until 10:26.) When he did mention the lack of eye contact, he did so only because Gitlin e-mailed. This too was like just like Josh.
Final point: Readers used to love it when we described the MSM doing this sort of thing. Now, when our nominal allies behave the same way, they recall a philosophers thoughtful words. Surely, there must be more innocent explanations for such conduct when its done by such high-minded people. People who think this way play for The Shirtsand only The Skins commit fouls.
ONE PARTY FIGHTS, ONE DOESNT: Should Gwen Ifill be hosting tonight? We would say no, she should not. By way of explanation, we agree with both points from this part of Jim Rutenbergs report in the Times. But we highlight one key word:
Duh! Of course this is in part an attempt to undermine Ifill and pre-excuse Palin. But thats a large part of the reason why Ifill shouldnt be hosting. Almost surely, her book will be much more valuable if Obama wins next month. And that creates the appearance of a conflictan appearance of conflict which will now create a massive, confusing distraction.
Should Ifill be hosting tonight? No, she should not. Theres absolutely nothing special about Ifills work; plenty of people could have handled this task. She should have told the debate commission about her bookand they should have chosen someone else, someone without an appearance of conflict. Someone who wouldnt have created this massive distraction.
Many liberals will disagree with this viewthereby showcasing our sides lack of perspective. In this reaction, we show our failure to comprehend the bumbling way our own party has worked.
For what its worth, this isnt the first time weve considered Gwen Ifills conflicts here:
In 2004, Ifill probably shouldnt have hosted the Cheney-Edwards debatebecause of her personal friendship with Condoleezza Rice. In August 2003, we noted that personal friendshipa few weeks after Ifill rolled over and died in a critical interview session with Rice. That particular conflict seemed real, and outrageousbut news of this problem largely died here. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/11/03, with links to previous reports.
Theres more to this, of course:
In 2004, Bob Schieffer probably shouldnt have hosted the third Bush-Kerry debate, because of his personal friendship with Bush. In January 2003, we had noted his buddy-buddy friendshipand the intense family connections which link the Schieffers to the Bushes. But news of this problem largely died here. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/12/04, with links to previous reports.
(Dont even ask us about Russert partying hearty with Rummy, or about the hapless Ted Koppel playing BFF with Colin Powell. Those problems can be found in our archives too.)
Ifill and Schieffer shouldnt have hosted debates in 2004. Ifill shouldnt be hosting tonight. But uh-oh! One party complains about such thingsand historically, one party doesnt. The same is true when McCains campaign plays it tough with NBC News. Liberals complained when Rutenberg reported that Tom Brokaw has tried to help NBC smooth things over with McCains campaign. But guess what? Brokaws network, and its cable arm, kicked the sh*t out of Clinton and Goreand the Democratic Party just sat there and took it. Liberal journals also wet their pants and refused to discuss what was happening.
Our side has long refused to complain. Now, were inclined to complain when the other side sensibly does.
Ifill is one of our most worthless journalistsand no, she really shouldnt be hosting. Her potential conflict has created a massive distractionand this has played right into the hands of the GOP. In 2003, she rolled over and died when she got that big interview with her pal, Condi. Tonight, she creates a massive distractiona distraction which wont help your side.
How they think about these events: Atrios notes Katherine Kit Seelye worrying over a crucial question: Before tonights debate, will Biden help Palin with her chair? But its even worse than Atrios thinks. Chris Matthews raised this problem at least two times on last evenings Hardball (7 PM edition). So far, no transcript.