The post-mortems on the first presidential debate provided me with first-hand experience of something that I had previously only read about, which was that the reactions of actual viewers of such debates immediately after watching them can differ quite widely from the media consensus generated afterwards. The things that we are told were significant events in past debates tend to be things that many viewers did not even notice in real time but were created as part of the post-debate narrative.
I watched the debate and went to sleep almost immediately afterwards, deliberately avoiding all the analyses. The next day, I wrote my thoughts about it before reading the opinions of others and gave my view that while Romney did somewhat better than Obama, the latter missing some opportunities to make important points, there was nothing earth-shattering. The whole event was pretty ho-hum, I thought.
Hence I was surprised to read later that some analysts were calling it a blowout victory for Romney and that some Obama supporters such as Andrew Sullivan were even calling it a ‘rolling calamity’ and a ‘disaster’ and panicking that he had blown his chances for re-election with his poor performance.
This illustrates how quickly the media consensus forms and thus poses a problem for me. If I want to know what happened, I will have to actually watch the debates, much as I dislike to, since the reports afterwards tend to lay undue emphasis on things that would have struck me as minor or trivial or may not have even noticed.
Perhaps I can convince myself that the debates don’t really matter all that much (not a hard case to make) and thus spare myself the feeling that I need to watch them.