Last Debate Comment

I don’t want to talk too much more about ABC’s debate, but George Stephanopoulos’s response to criticism of his moronic questions is kind of fascinating, in the way he unwittingly sheds light on the problem with a lot of TV journalism:

“We decided to focus at the top on the issues that had been at the center of the debate since the last debate. Everything we brought up in that front section had not come up since the last debate. And they all focused on the same theme — which candidate would be a stronger Democratic candidate in November.””This is the core question for the campaigns, and a lot of Democratic voters right now. That’s why we decided to lead with it.”

So he’s saying that issues like flag lapel pins are “the issues that had been at the center of the debate” recently. But why have they been “at the center of the debate?” Because TV news people — emphatically including Stephanopoulos — kept talking about them. Stephanopoulos doesn’t cite, because he doesn’t have, any poll data that shows this is a “core question” for voters. Instead he’s following the pattern that we’ve seen for years and years:

1) TV news reports on some lame issue for 24 hours straight.
2) TV news people then tell us that this issue must be important because it’s been reported on so much.

The reason The Colbert Report is so effective is that Colbert’s character parodies the fundamental flaw of TV news and punditry: these people think that what is interesting to them is the stuff that’s most interesting to everybody. It would never occur to Stephanopoulos that the stuff he focuses on reflects his own interest in inane trivia, because he lives in a world where what he’s interested in must, by default, be important to Regular Folks. As Colbert said in his first episode: “On this show, your voice will be heard in the form of my voice.”

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