WaPo TV Critic Feels Wednesday's Debate 'Slanted Against Obama'

Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos actually asked some tough questions of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama during Wednesday's Democrat presidential debate on ABC.

Yet, the Washington Post's television critic Tom Shales wasn't happy about this, and actually felt the event represented "another step downward for network news" wherein the moderators "turned in shoddy, despicable performances."


What follows are some of Shales' key criticisms (emphasis added throughout, picture courtesy NYT):

  • The fact is, cable networks CNN and MSNBC both did better jobs with earlier candidate debates. Also, neither of those cable networks, if memory serves, rushed to a commercial break just five minutes into the proceedings, after giving each candidate a tiny, token moment to make an opening statement. Cable news is indeed taking over from network news, and merely by being competent.
  • The boyish Stephanopoulos, who has done wonders with the network's Sunday morning hour, "This Week" (as, indeed, has Gibson with the nightly "World News"), looked like an overly ambitious intern helping out at a subcommittee hearing, digging through notes for something smart-alecky and slimy. He came up with such tired tripe as a charge that Obama once associated with a nutty bomb-throwing anarchist. That was "40 years ago, when I was 8 years old," Obama said with exasperation.

Tired tripe? Pardon me, Tom, but since virtually no mainstream media member has dared bring this issue up, how could it be tired?

On the other hand, is it possible Shales' own political leanings were getting in the way of his objectivity? Take a look at how hard the TV critic defended Obama in this piece:

Obama was right on the money when he complained about the campaign being bogged down in media-driven inanities and obsessiveness over any misstatement a candidate might make along the way, whether in a speech or while being eavesdropped upon by the opposition. The tactic has been to "take one statement and beat it to death," he said.

He's right on the money, Tom? Media have for decades nay centuries thrived on gaffes during political campaigns. Do you think this is new? Or, is it only distasteful when press members are harping on misstatements by candidates you support?

But I digress:

No sooner was that said than Gibson brought up, yet again, the controversial ravings of the pastor at a church attended by Obama. "Charlie, I've discussed this," he said, and indeed he has, ad infinitum. If he tried to avoid repeating himself when clarifying his position, the networks would accuse him of changing his story, or changing his tune, or some other baloney.

This is precisely what has happened with widely reported comments that Obama made about working-class people "clinging" to religion and guns during these times of cynicism about their federal government.

"It's not the first time I made a misstatement that was mangled up, and it won't be the last," said Obama, with refreshing candor. But candor is dangerous in a national campaign, what with network newsniks waiting for mistakes or foul-ups like dogs panting for treats after performing a trick. The networks' trick is covering an election with as little emphasis on issues as possible, then blaming everyone else for failing to focus on "the issues."

Hmmm. So, in Shales' view, networks covering Obama's statements concerning working-class people in small towns is just a trick? As this was just revealed last Friday, Gibson and Stephanopoulos should have ignored it?

Judging from Shales' conclusion, the answer is "Yes":

To this observer, ABC's coverage seemed slanted against Obama. The director cut several times to reaction shots of such Clinton supporters as her daughter, Chelsea, who sat in the audience at the Kimmel Theater in Philly's National Constitution Center. Obama supporters did not get equal screen time, giving the impression that there weren't any in the hall. The director also clumsily chose to pan the audience at the very start of the debate, when the candidates made their opening statements, so Obama and Clinton were barely seen before the first commercial break.

At the end, Gibson pompously thanked the candidates -- or was he really patting himself on the back? -- for "what I think has been a fascinating debate." He's entitled to his opinion, but the most fascinating aspect was waiting to see how low he and Stephanopoulos would go, and then being appalled at the answer.

Maybe Shales just preferred the softball questions being asked of these candidates during CNN and MSNBC events...or just liked it better when Obama was being treated by virtually every press outlet in the nation as a rock star.

Those were the good old days, hey Tom?

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Noel Sheppard's picture