Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Krugman Predicts the Debate Winner

And I agree with his prediction:

Let's face it: whatever happens in Thursday's debate, cable news will proclaim President Bush the winner. This will reflect the political bias so evident during the party conventions. It will also reflect the undoubted fact that Mr. Bush does a pretty good Clint Eastwood imitation.
But what will the print media do? Let's hope they don't do what they did four years ago.
Interviews with focus groups just after the first 2000 debate showed Al Gore with a slight edge. Post-debate analysis should have widened that edge. After all, during the debate, Mr. Bush told one whopper after another - about his budget plans, about his prescription drug proposal and more. The fact-checking in the next day's papers should have been devastating.
But as Adam Clymer pointed out yesterday on the Op-Ed page of The Times, front-page coverage of the 2000 debates emphasized not what the candidates said but their "body language." After the debate, the lead stories said a lot about Mr. Gore's sighs, but nothing about Mr. Bush's lies. And even the fact-checking pieces "buried inside the newspaper" were, as Mr. Clymer delicately puts it, "constrained by an effort to balance one candidate's big mistakes" - that is, Mr. Bush's lies - "against the other's minor errors."
The result of this emphasis on the candidates' acting skills rather than their substance was that after a few days, Mr. Bush's defeat in the debate had been spun into a victory.

It's not necessarily the case that all of the so-called liberal media is biased in favor of Bush; some are, but others have this odd view of nonpartisanship which boils down to trying to make each party equally bad or good. Even when the facts favor one position over the other. The combined effect of Fox News -type bias plus the wishy-washiness of the rest will result in a victorious Bush, even if he says something really stupid or deceitful.

The interesting question is of course why hold the debates at all. Why not just declare Bush as the winner and get on with life?

I still hope that all this is excessively pessimistic...