The 16 April Obama-Clinton debate

George Stephanopoulos defends the 16 April so-called "debate" between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but really, it was largely just an attack on Obama by Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson. Clinton caught some flak as well, but she joined in a few times, thereby occasionally making it a three-to-one fight.

“The vote for the president,” Stephanopoulos said, “is one of the most personal” decisions that someone makes.

“When people make that choice, they take into account how candidates stand on the issues,” he said, but also are concerned with “experience, character [and] credibility.”

“You can’t find a presidential election where those issues didn’t come into play,” he said.

Stephanopoulos explained that since the candidates are not far apart policy-wise, the “core of the nomination fight” has been about these issues.

“They’ve been fighting it out on this turf,” he said, adding that these are things that “came up between this debate and the last one.”

But as Media Matters has pointed out more than once, the media really can't be relied upon to assess character with any accuracy.

Of course character is important in choosing a president; of course personality will always play a role. The problem isn't that journalists think character and personality matter, it is that they are spectacularly bad at assessing these traits, and even worse at predicting how the candidates will govern as a result.

One example was the case of Al Gore and Naomi Wolf. It was charged during the 2000 presidential election that Wolf was advising Gore to wear "earth tones." Well, Wolf was indeed working with Gore as a campaign adviser, but she wasn't hired to provide clothing advice. And if she had been doing so? Well, John McCain was heard to complain just a few months back that his campaign adviser instructed him to wear what he called "gay" sweaters, so it would hardly be a dramatic break with tradition for Wolf to have provided that advice.

In their attempt to assess Gore's character, the media messed up the Gore-Wolf story on two levels. One, it wasn't even true. Two, even if it were true, so what?

As to experience, G W Bush was an MBA, the CEO of several companies and Governor of Texas. We can see where all that experience got us.

The Obama-Clinton "debate" spent almost a full hour on such idiotic trivialities as to what Obama's pastor said during a sermon shortly after 9-11 (Obama says he wasn't there and nobody considered the speech significant enough to have told him about it, a quick look at Wright's biography shows that the attitude expressed in the speech was a very minor part of his life) and Obama's being on same board of directors with a former Weather Underground member who made a really stupid statement about 40 years ago (Obviously, if the fellow was serving on a board of directors, then he's apparently matured and is much less stupid these days). Clinton, to her discredit, chimed in to agree that Obama showed poor judgement in both cases.

Clinton claimed that she's faced the Republican Noise Machine in the past and so knows how to handle it. Well, I don't think it shows very good judgement to back up the other sides' talking points and attacks on your own side. Even if you agree that your ally showed poor judgement, it's a very, very bad idea to join up with the other side to attack your own side. As Allahpundit from the blog that Michelle Malkin sometimes contributes to, Hot Air, puts it: "Hillary: Why, yes, Jeremiah Wright is a legitimate campaign issue," followed by "Coming soon to a McCain campaign ad near you."

That was a major complaint about Joe Lieberman that cost him his membership in the Democratic Party. As the Jewish Daily Forward put it:

Many activists believe that Lieberman’s conciliatory approach [to Republicans] undercuts the party’s unity, consistency and confrontational posture, all of which are essential for an effective opposition party. They resent his style more than they resent his voting record, which is not very different from those of many popular Democrats.

Andrew Sullivan was less than impressed with Clinton's performance:

Clinton has exposed herself in this campaign as one of the worst shells of a cynical pol in American politics. She doesn’t just return us to the Morris-Rove era, she represents a new height for it.

The Swamp from Baltimore agrees:

...for Hillary Clinton to get so giddy about the Wright question was really just sad. She was the official purveyor of fringe talking points. Shockingly so. And, she seemed to enjoy it. There’s a reason people think Clinton is dishonest as we saw today in the findings of the Washington Post-ABC News poll. She’s not only in this to win, she’s in it to win dirty — and to destroy Obama. She invoked Louis Farrakhan tonight for no reason — just to say it.

Daily Kos was considerably less than kind to the two interrogators:

I’ll bet if they had more time, ABC anchors Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolus would probably have gotten around to asking Obama and Clinton about Willie Horton….The questions asked were not the kinds of questions Democratic primary voters care about. But they are the “gotcha” kinds of questions Republicans try to spring on Democrats in general elections.

Very interestingly, a blogger from Hot Air was very supportive of Clinton:

…The winner of this debate? John McCain. Both Democrats came out of this diminished, but Obama got destroyed in this exchange.

Jon Stewart's Daily Show for 18 April also commented on this episode:

ABC News had traveled about, taping questions from Pennsylvanians. Which question was presented to Obama? A woman asked him to explain why he doesn’t wear a lapel pin.
Should that question have been selected? You can make a case for almost anything. And it’s true—this matter has been bruited about; almost surely, there are other Pennsylvanians who are wondering about it. Some Pennsylvanians, including that woman, may even cast their vote on this basis. (People vote for every imaginable reason. See example below.)
But ABC News had less than two hours, and the world is full of complex issues. At some point, journalists have to set their priorities. And by the way: If ABC taped a lot of citizens, surely someone looked into the camera and asked Obama if he’s a Muslim—or if it’s true that he won’t swear on a Bible. Did someone ask Clinton about all her murders? At some point, a news org has to show some judgment about which questions to pick.
In the real world, some questions are more equal than others. And some questions reflect the broken-souled culture of a broken, multimillionaire press corps.

Both The Moderate Voice and AmericaBlog have done round-ups of opinion on the web.

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