Debate groupthink

Kevin Drum reports that he and others had the same reaction that I had to the debate and its aftermath, how what seemed during the debate like a marginally better performance by Mitt Romney became transformed into a massive win.

Drum is puzzled by how and why this happened but the explanation seems fairly straightforward to me. It is because, as I said before the debate, the media desperately likes to have close races and they will gin up the slightest sign of improvement in the fortunes of the candidate who is behind. The initial mild reaction of viewers became unrecognizable after the media filter selected out the small signal over the noise and amplified it beyond recognition.


  1. jamessweet says

    There’s another component here, and that’s our own personal biases. My initial impression of the debate was that it was a wash — which led me to believe the media reaction would probably score it as a Romney win. I know which way my biases lean, and I account for them.

    That said, the magnitude of win that is being claimed is a little crazy.

  2. Psychopomp Gecko says

    What gets me is that by now you’d think they would take factual accuracy into account.

  3. jamessweet says

    What gets me is that by now you’d think they would take factual accuracy into account.

    By the same token, it really got my goat when pundits were particularly critical of the fact that this debate was more policy-heavy than is typically expected of the format. I’m fine with observing that a lot of voters (particularly of the undecided variety) are not going to have the background to follow a lot of that wonkishness, but specifically criticizing the candidates for it, that really rubs me the wrong way — especially when coming from people who can actually follow it themselves.

    “Although I understand what they are saying, the candidates did a bad job by discussing the actual issues. Poo on them for not eschewing substance altogether.” Yuck.

  4. Aratina Cage says

    I’m not convinced that the media chatter is the problem here. Obama’s loss was visceral. He wore it for all to see in his body language, unable to look Romney in the eye and refute him. Hardly anybody is going to want a president who can’t stand up forthrightly to a brazen opponent. That first debate was largely an image war, and Obama lost it badly.

  5. Doug Little says

    Yes I found the same thing. I was sitting there watching it and my wife asked me who was winning, I found it next to impossible to give an unbiased answer, I thought it was pretty much a wash as well. I think that I scored Obama more highly than most because I was zeroed in on content rather than style, referring to live blogging sites that were fact checking on the fly.

  6. slc1 says

    What happened to Obama was the result of the Gish Gallop perpetrated by Romney, for which he was not prepared. Of course, the morons in the lamestream media have never heard of Duane Gish so it’s not surprising that they failed to recognize it.

  7. jenniferphillips says

    The media can be always be counted on to spin out their sensational headlines. What’s far more depressing to me is that more people don’t see through it. The latest Pew poll shows Romney with a post debate ‘bounce’ actually getting MORE support from likely voters. Really???? It depresses the hell out of me that a single debate performance would have that much of an effect in the first place, but that Romney is being rewarded for lying his ass off for 35 minutes is just gobsmacking.

  8. mediamancer says

    It could not have been the result of the Gish Gallop because that technique requires poor moderation — the galloper needs to overwhelm the victim with too many lies to refute. In Creationism debates this takes about 45 minutes. But in this presidential debate, Jim Lehrer kept things to short 15-min segments, and made sure the two could challenge and rebut each other. Indeed, Romney constantly corrected Obama on points such as Romney’s purported $5 trillion tax cut, Romney’s supposed intent to cute education funding, etc. Romney was unashamedly aggressive here — and for whatever reason, Obama failed to stand up to him, and looked sheepish, as if a sitting American president could be bullied by a mere senator. That just doesn’t look good for Obama.

  9. slc1 says

    Nice try but most of the commentary I have heard is that Lehrer was pathetic.

    Romney was credited with telling some 60 lies in the “debate”, which is par for the course for him as he is a congenital liar. The Gish Gallop is exactly that. Tell so many lies in each segment that the opponent has no opportunity to respond to all of them as the explanations take longer then the statement of the lies, unless he anticipates them beforehand and has short responses prepared. This was what Ken Miller did before debating Henry Morris, an avid follower of Gish. Miller read everything Morris had ever written and reviewed every video of him that could be found on the Internet before the debate. Thus Miller was able able to anticipate every argument that Morris made and was well prepared to rebut them.

    Gish was an expert at this, at least until he ran into John Maynard Smith, and it appears that Romney learned well from his example.

  10. Psychopomp Gecko says

    To say that Romney corrected Obama implies that the President wasn’t tell the truth about those things. According to the factcheckers, some cuts Romney claimed he wanted to make do add up to $5 trillion when economists ran the numbers.

    After the RNC, did anyone think Romney would actually be truthful in the debate?

    And Jim Lehrer did a horrible job keeping control of things. The first segment was supposed to be 15 minutes and went over 20. Romney spoke over the moderator to take extra time to rebut when that portion was supposed to be done with. There might as well have been no moderator.

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