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Post-Debate on PBS

Reported by Nancy - September 30, 2004 -

What a relief to monitor PBS coverage of the debate! No ad breaks, no hideous music, no short-attention-span eye candy, no sneering or shouting matches: just intelligent, civilized adults making intelligent observations.

Immediately following the debate, at 10:30pm (EDT) Gwen Ifill interviewed Mark Shields (moderate/liberal) & David Brooks (moderate/conservative). Shields & Brooks do a regular segment of political commentary on PBS' "Newshour". Both have tons of experience in this area. Both agreed that the debate was substantive, addressing issues of real importance to voters, & both also agreed that it was a "draw" in terms of who won, although Shields thought Kerry came out slightly ahead while Brooks thought Bush did.

At 10:37pm (EDT) Ray Sanchez interviewed C Boyden Gray (GOP) & Donna Brasile (Dem). Sanchez asked similar questions of both guests (e.g., asking Gray if Bush were effective & asking Brasile if Kerry were effective). Gray makes occasional appearances on shows I monitor on FNC, & his performance here was significantly more civilized. He responded specifically to Sanchez's questions, although he insisted on repeating GOP talking points. He said Bush's tactics were effective, & that Bush gave a "surprisingly strong performance" [comment: playing the low expectations game]. Brasile said that foreign policy is clearly one of the most important issues in this election & Kerry, as the challenger, has the more difficult job, but he outlined specific plans that he's been proposing & now more voters will have a chance to evaluate his proposals. She noted that Bush "got a little testy" at a couple of points. When Gray said that Bush did good job of laying out that the case that Kerry still can't make up his mind, Brazile countered that Kerry said up front what he believes, viewers will ignore GOP talking points & stump speeches, the "flip-flop" charge won't work any more. [comment: this segment, with two highly partisan guests, was the most contentious, but on a Fox scale of 1 to 10 would barely have registered as a 2].

For a broader historical perspective [comment: something I've never seen on FNC, which defines "history" as roughly "anything that happened in the past 10 mins"], at 10:43pm (EDT) Margaret Warner interviewed 3 historians: Michael Beschloss (historian specializing in the US presidency & American politics), Richard Norton Smith (historian & political biographer, & Director of the Lincoln Presidential Library) & Ellen Fitzpatrick (history prof, UNH). The historical perspective is a regular segment on PBS' "Newshour", & these 3 guests were called upon for similar duty during the DNC & RNC this past summer.

Among their more interesting observations:

Smith: It wasn't 1975 or 1984, nobody made a major gaffe. It was much better than 2000. It was Bush the nationalist v Kerry the globalist. Kerry was an aggressive challenger & effective in that role. Bush took a Reaganesque approach, repeating himself to try to drive a point home. Reagan 1980 was the sine qua non of this style. Bush saying that he has a plan doesn't mean he really does have a plan.

Beschloss: I don't think this debate will change anyone's mind, but it will draw contrasts between the two. It was like watching Adlai Stevenson v John Wayne, or just two guys trying to knock each other out. Kerry was critical on process, Bush kept repeating his mantra about "root values".

Fitzpatrick: This was a much better debate than we've seen in a long time. Kerry was like the smartest kid in class, Bush was like the bored teacher swatting him away. The challenger always has this difficulty. Viewers don't expect specificity, but the analysis of the war matters. Kerry says the war in Iraq was a mistake, but that doesn't mean we withdraw, as Bush claims it does: it means let's fix it.

At 10:50pm (EDT), Ifill returned with Shields & Brooks to summarize. Shields noted that the rule about 'no cut-away shots' was ignored. Viewers saw Bush show obvious anger, especially early on. Split decision for Kerry. Brooks said that Kerry didn't define the enemy well, mentioning only Al-Qaeda, Bush makes it broader, including radical Islamists. Brooks felt that Kerry drifted a little, while Bush stuck to the questions. Split decision for Bush.

Comment: There were no shouting matches & no foaming-at-the-mouth diatribes. Interviewers solicited guests' opinions rather than seeking to spin them. Guests knew they'd be able to finish a sentence without interruption & were thus able to extend the same courtesy to other guests. A total & welcome change of pace from the "stuff" I usually monitor on FNC.