Why were so many journalists so aggravated by the latest presidential debate? According to Politico scribes John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei, it wasn’t about George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson’s less substantive questions—instead, the problem was that “this time there were more hard questions for Obama than for Clinton.”
In fact, the balance of political questions (15) to policy questions (13) was more substantive than other debates this year that prompted no deluge of protests. The difference is that this time there were more hard questions for Obama than for Clinton.
Moreover, those questions about Jeremiah Wright, about Obama’s association with 1960s radical William Ayers, about apparent contradictions between his past and present views on proven wedge issues like gun control, were entirely in-bounds. If anything they were overdue for a front-runner and likely nominee.
If Obama was covered like Clinton is, one feels certain the media focus would not have been on the questions, but on a candidate performance that at times seemed tinny, impatient, and uncertain.
The difference seems clear: Many journalists are not merely observers but participants in the Obama phenomenon.
(Harris only here: As one who has assigned journalists to cover Obama at both Politico and the Washington Post, I have witnessed the phenomenon several times. Some reporters come back and need to go through de-tox, to cure their swooning over Obama’s political skill. Even VandeHei seemed to have been bitten by the bug after the Iowa caucus.)
(VandeHei only here: There is no doubt reporters are smitten with Obama’s speeches and promises to change politics. I find his speeches, when he’s on, pretty electric myself. It certainly helps his cause that reporters also seem very tired of the Clintons and their paint-by-polls approach to governing.)
AP photo / Jae C. Hong
Here’s looking at you, Obama: ABC moderator Charlie Gibson, center, talks with presidential candidate Barack Obama before the start of Wednesday’s debate.