So when you watch the debates, do you stick around for the analysts and pundits afterwards? Do you find out how Chris Matthews and David Gergen and Larry King felt? Do you need to find out what the conventional wisdom is before you go to bed? Figure out the narrative, find out who "won" in the eyes of the newsmedia? You don't need to bother anymore. All three debates this year have followed the exact same script: the expectations set by the campaigns are self-contradictory and confused, the debates seem boring and repetitive, and following each one pundits agree that John McCain won "on points," whatever that means. Then the snap polls come in! Last night, Andrea Mitchell tentatively tried to claim, once again, that McCain won "on points," everyone agreed that McCain was feistier and got better zingers in, everyone fixated on the "I'm not George Bush" line as the best of the debates, Joe the Plumber was supposed to be the story of the day, and overall everyone wanted a narrative shift to a McCain comeback, because that's a better story. But the voters didn't care. CBS undecideds: Obama 53, McCain 22. CNN poll: Obama 58, McCain 31. MediaCurves independents: Obama 60, McCain 30. John King tried to explain away his own poll's bias toward Democrats even as the independents they polled when for Obama by 26 points. This is bad news for pundits! Because one very important role a pundit is supposed to play is recognizing and explaining the mood of the nation. They are supposed to predict, based on their experience and wisdom, what voters want to hear and what they will respond to. And this season, they've been dead fucking wrong, over and over again. But more importantly, the numbers are proving them wrong objectively, and they're forced to correct themselves immediately. In previous election cycles, the numbers could say it was a narrow Gore victory or statistical tie, but the punditry could shift those numbers over a weekend through relentless repetition of the narrative they invented, making it a lopsided Bush gain by Monday. It's much, much harder for Maureen Dowd to control—or even reflect—the "narrative" of the campaign now, because the internet makes all the raw data available and everyone has access to it. We never intend to write a "hooray the internet is correcting and democratizing the MSM" piece but in this instance it does seem to be a useful corrective to the tendency of people like Chris Matthews to mistake their own fevered imaginations for the mood of a nation.
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