Remember the Democratic presidential
primary debate in April, when ABC's Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos delivered a stunningly lowbrow and ludicrous set of questions to
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton? In a particularly dark moment for
TV journalism - where junk news, celebrity gossip and "I can talk
louder than you" punditry have replaced investigative reporting and
hard-hitting news - this debate was a national embarrassment.
As last night's presidential
debate approached, the media were still obsessed with "lipstick on
a pig" and deciding if Sarah Palin's husband should be called "First Dude." We simply can't hope for better
journalism. It's time we held the accountable -- starting with the
Which is exactly what 4,600
Americans did after last night's debate at RatetheDebates.org. While anchors and pundits were scrambling
to spin the candidates' performances, Free Press and media analyst
Andrew Tyndall helped Americans grade the media's performance.
So how did American's rate
the first presidential debates? The results are in:
It appears that supporters
of Sen. Barack Obama were more dissatisfied than supporters of Sen.
John McCain with the narrow scope of the foreign policy questions chosen
Obama supporters in the panel tended to criticize the absence of questions
on Africa (80% vs. 58% of McCain's) and China (74% vs.64%); and on the
foreign policy issues of global warming (89% vs. 42%); human rights
abuses (85% vs. 57%); AIDS and other diseases (86% vs. 55%); and globalized
trade (76% vs. 56%).
The supporters of both candidates gave high marks to Lehrer's selection
of questions about four major regions: At least 70% of each group scored
him as "just right" for the time he devoted to Afghanistan
and Pakistan; to Iran; to Russia and NATO; and to Iraq.
Lehrer's decision to depart
from the designated foreign policy topic of the debate and include questions
about the financial crisis drew little criticism. More than half of
each group of supporters rated the time he spent on high finance (50%
of Obama's supporters vs. 50% of McCain's), federal spending (52% vs.
56%) and taxation (58% vs. 56%) as "just right." Many Obama
supporters complained that Lehrer's economic questions did not also
cover poverty (86% vs. 38%), Social Security (83% vs. 63%) and unemployment
(77% vs. 46%) as well.
There was little difference
between the two groups of partisans in their assessment of Lehrer's
performance. Fewer than 10% of the overall panel said he did a "poor
job" (36% excellent, 54% adequate). The rest of the results can
RatetheDebates.org also asked
volunteers to weigh in on the media's overall election coverage. McCain
and Obama supporters alike tended to be more critical of the quality
of election coverage by traditional broadcast news sources. Nearly 7
out of 10 McCain supporters (69%) rated election coverage by national
network news as "poor" (versus 52% of Obama supporters). Nearly
7 out of 10 Obama supporters (68%) counted as "poor" local
television news (versus 58% of McCain supporters).
They were split on their assessment
of commercial radio. Of McCain's supporters, 58% rated commercial radio
coverage as either "adequate" or "excellent." Obama
supporters overwhelmingly ranked commercial radio coverage as "poor"
Interestingly, the two groups
of supporters tended to watch the debate on different outlets. MSNBC
(27%) and PBS (26%) were the favorite outlets for Obama partisans. Fox
News Channel was the favorite for fully 43% of the McCain voters in
Three more debates remain,
giving you three more chances to rate them. Are the moderators covering
the issues that matter to you, or are they focused on candidate gossip
and campaign gotchas? Did they hold the candidates responsible, asking
tough questions, or did they lob softballs? You be the judge.