How media consensus was reached on the debates


Do you remember the time when you were an adolescent? That was the time when you could roughly split people into three groups: the trendsetters, the trend followers, and those who deliberatively chose to go against prevailing trends, irrespective of whether they were good or bad. Most people fell into the second category, people who would usually look around to see what the ‘correct’ thing was to say or do, for fear of being out on a limb and thus open to scorn from their peers.

As we got older, most of us became more comfortable with forming our own opinions, even if they challenged the unconventional wisdom. You would think that those people who work in the media would take such an adult view. But it turns out that some of them are just overgrown adolescents, fearful of expressing an opinion that is out of step with their peers.

For example, in my naïve way, I assumed that reporters watching the debates would do what I did: watch the debates, think for a bit about what they saw, and then write up their views. But that is apparently not what happens. This article by Dana Millbank reports on what he saw during the debates. He said that the reporters were not in the auditorium but were in a separate room in which the debate was shown on a large screen. But the reporters were also glued to their laptop screens reading other people’s Tweets, especially those of media bigwigs, about what they saw. And so you would find people’s views of the debate being rapidly shaped by other people’s views, sometimes of fairly trivial things, and even before the debate ended, a consensus had emerged which was then widely broadcast.

This may explain why I thought the first debate was a minor victory for Mitt Romney and was staggered to find the next day it being portrayed as a blowout that had crippled Obama’s candidacy.

Comments

  1. machintelligence says

    This may explain why I thought the first debate was a minor victory for Mitt Romney and was staggered to find the next day it being portrayed as a blowout that had crippled Obama’s candidacy.

    There may be some truth in this, but I think it was also shattered expectations on the part of Obama supporters. I too scored it as a minor victory for Mitt, and I might have underestimated the disappointment factor.
    BTW I also usually read all of the comments before writing my own. Is this a similar behavior?

  2. Jeff Johnson says

    The general public is tragically superficial, placing more importance on style than substance, valuing appearances over reality. One reporter (can’t remember who) suggested the best way to see who won the debate was to watch it with the sound off. I don’t think he was kidding, either.

    In my view, Obama allowed Romney to lie too much in the first debate, but it was something of a Gish Gallop. But Obama had one line that, if our country were smarter, ought to have crushed Romney. To paraphrase, it was something like: the American people need to decide whether Romney is withholding the details of his plans because they are too good.

  3. Tim says

    Not sure if I agree with you here, Mano:

    “As we got older, most of us became more comfortable with forming our own opinions, even if they challenged the unconventional wisdom.”

    I used to believe this statement as well.

    A few years ago, I held a position where I was teaching adults new leadership/interpersonal skills. The majority of adults I worked with had multiple advanced degrees and were making a lot of money — truly what “educated” and “successful” might look like in our culture.

    I was astounded at their general inability to form their own opinions and to think critically.

    I’ve since come to hold the shared hypothesis that forming one’s own opinion (as well as thinking critically) is a developmental task (in the sense of developmental psychology). Not everyone who is an adult gets to this developmental stage.

    Anecdotal, to be sure. But food for thought.

    As always a fascinating topic, Mano. Thanks for blogging.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Mano Singham writes: Dana Millbank reports on what he saw during the debates. He said that the reporters were not in the auditorium but were in a separate room in which the debate was shown on a large screen. But the reporters were also glued to their laptop screens reading other people’s Tweets, especially those of media bigwigs, about what they saw. And so you would find people’s views of the debate being rapidly shaped by other people’s views, sometimes of fairly trivial things, and even before the debate ended, a consensus had emerged which was then widely broadcast. […]

  2. […] Mano Singham writes: Dana Millbank reports on what he saw during the debates. He said that the reporters were not in the auditorium but were in a separate room in which the debate was shown on a large screen. But the reporters were also glued to their laptop screens reading other people’s Tweets, especially those of media bigwigs, about what they saw. And so you would find people’s views of the debate being rapidly shaped by other people’s views, sometimes of fairly trivial things, and even before the debate ended, a consensus had emerged which was then widely broadcast. […]

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