ABC's Failure, Objectively
It is rare when you have a situation as clear as this one. Generally media bias or stupidity is one critics have to make by inference or by drawing together a series of threads--which can look a little conspiratorial. But here it's not a close call. In a debate between Democratic candidates, ABC's journalistic duty was straightforward: give viewers a sense of which candidate best serves their interests. By going so far off the reservation into the Bizarro World of GOP talking points, ABC can't begin to defend this as a service to voters. Last night, we peeked behind the curtain.
[See also: Naill Stanage, Will Bunch.]
Stephanopoulos and the Conflict of Interest
Since the first 45 minutes of the debate were essentially an Obama gang tackle by Gibson, Stephanopoulos, and Clinton, it's reasonable to bring up the point of George's conflict of interest. The debate is on. Personally, this isn't a close call, either. Since the ABC brain trust decided to spend the first 45 minutes hectoring Obama--in the dubious but journalistically defensible act of attacking the front-runner--they needed to put someone out there without a direct link to one of the candidates.
The effect was one in which the moderator and one candidate, former colleagues, were battering the other candidate. Hard to look at that and not feel a little queasy.Yes, Yes, Yes
In every debate, two hours of talk gets reduced to a sound bite. In the flow of the two hours, it's really hard to predict what that sound bite will be--but it has the effect of characterizing the entire debate, like a boxing match where the only thing you show is the one knock-down. So it's extra-super bizarre that the "yes, yes, yes" sound bite may be the lasting memory from Pennsylvania. Clinton's entire argument comes down to this: "Yes, Obama has won more states, more votes, and more delegates, but you have to vote for me because I am more electable in the fall." So when George asked her if Obama can beat McCain in the fall, her answer was surprising and perhaps devastating. If she not only thinks Obama can win, but enthusiastically, remind me again--what is the raison d'etra of her campaign?