Debate Pundits: "Where Was Obama?"
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Updated Oct. 4
If the progressive cable news channel MSNBC represents President Obama's base, then that base was stunned by the president's lackluster debate performance in his first face-off with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney Wednesday night.
Competitor CNN's flash poll of registered voters who watched the debate found that 67 percent said Romney won, while only 25 percent chose Obama. Such a departure from the usual close split between the two candidates means "you have the president's supporters saying he just got spanked," CNN's John King told viewers.
"Where was Obama tonight?" Chris Matthews asked on MSNBC. "He should watch — well, not just 'Hardball,' Rachel [Maddow], he should watch you, he should watch the Rev. Al [Sharpton], he should watch Lawrence [O'Donnell], he would learn something about this debate. There's a hot debate going on in this country. Do you know where it's being held? Here on this network is where we're having the debate. We have our knives out. We go after the people and the facts. What was he doing tonight? He went in there disarmed. What was Romney doing? He was winning. If he (Obama) does five more of these nights, forget it."
Watching cable news is not Obama's favorite pastime. Michael Lewis, who recently spent hours with the president for a lengthy Vanity Fair piece, told NPR interviewer Terry Gross last month that Obama has ". . . decided that nothing on cable news is worth listening to. He doesn't watch it. He thinks it's totally toxic, like it affects your brain, and he won't turn on the TV."
The MSNBC pundits said the president seemed to view the debate as something to be endured, and to his detriment, he took pains not to detract from looking "presidential."
Host Rachel Maddow ticked off the issues that Obama failed to raise: Romney's secretly videotaped comment that 47 percent of Americans don't pay taxes and consider themselves victims, immigration, union rights, abortion, women's rights, the Bain Capital private equity firm Romney headed and Romney's jobs record in Massachusetts.
They weren't the only missing questions. In the 90 minutes of discussion of domestic policy, it seemed as though no concerns surfaced from the journalist of color associations, which submitted questions to the Commission on Presidential Debates that were presumably forwarded to moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS.
The National Association of Black Journalists' suggested topics were unemployment and the economy, particularly black joblessness; the Affordable Health Care Act; education; crime and law enforcement, specifically the stop-and-frisk laws; and the nation's changing demographics. The questions from the Hispanic and Asian American journalists associations emphasized immigration and jobs; those from the Native American journalists were specific to American Indians.
Lehrer stuck to questions about the economy, the budget, tax plans and the president's health care plan, which Obama said he did not mind being nicknamed "Obamacare." Not that Lehrer had much control of the debate or a chance to get in many questions. Former ABC anchor Carole Simpson, who moderated the 1992 presidential debate among Bill Clinton, President George H.W. Bush and independent H. Ross Perot, tweeted, "Oh, Barack. What happened to you? And Jim Lehrer, what happened to you? You lost control of the debate. A change has gotta come and soon."
However, O'Donnell said on MSNBC that he liked Lehrer's approach because "the moderator was not a factor. Romney came out to this debate determined to make it a debate."
"Lehrer got rolled over by Romney again and again, and it was the president's fault that he didn't try the same thing," Maddow said.
Jack Murchinson of the Huffington Post agreed. "It was Lehrer's 13th time moderating, but he was largely unsuccessful in his attempts to corral the candidates. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney rolled right over him as, with increasing plaintiveness, he tried to get them to stop talking. 'No, no, no,' he said to Romney at one point."
It will never be known whether another moderator — none of color was chosen for any of the four debates — would have had better luck.
The commentariat debated what went wrong with the president and why Romney had done so well.
"He was off his game," MSNBC's Ed Schultz said of Obama. "He was afraid to call out Romney because he didn't want to look angry." It was one of the few comments with racial implications, in that it harkened to an observation made often of the first African American president and the "angry black man" stereotype he is said to have worked hard to avoid.
Black journalists such as Roland Martin of CNN, Eugene Robinson of MSNBC and Juan Williams of Fox News Channel were missing from the commentary immediately following the debate.
Van Jones, an African American environmental advocate who was chased out of his administration post early in the administration after a right-wing campaign, appeared as an analyst on CNN. "I think they had the wrong strategy," Jones said of the Obama team. "I think he thought he could come on and have a conversation with the American people like Romney wasn't there, and treat it like a town hall format with nobody else there." But Romney was able to "out Obama Obama. On the connection piece, on the authenticity piece, on the being able to tell the story."
CNN analyst David Gergen, former adviser to several presidents, said on the same network, "I suspect that the president had never been talked to like that in the last four years. He was surprised that Romney was flat-out lying; it threw him off his game." The same fate had befallen other incumbents facing hungry challengers, such as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, he said.
Another MSNBC host, Chris Hayes, said of Romney, "The one thing he did was lop off the right wing of his party. Whenever the president raised a popular idea, he was for it." James Carville said on CNN, "He just threw his whole tax plan under the bus."
Sharpton, who hosts MSNBC's "PoliticsNation," agreed with others that a full assessment would take days. The activist said of Romney, "He made a good testimony, but he will be indicted for perjury. . . . Romney's problem is this is 2012, not 1812. We can go back to the tape. No doubt Romney was his best tonight, but his best was not good enough. . . . We have heard him say things contrary to this. His problem is going to be [the previous] Mitt Romney."
The CNN poll included 224 men and 206 women; 359 whites and 71 nonwhites; 158 Democrats, 130 independents and 142 Republicans, Sam Feist, CNN Washington bureau chief, told Journal-isms by email on Thursday. [Updated Oct. 4]
- Charles M. Blow, New York Times: Cool Hand Barry
- Jonathan Cohn, the New Republic: The Four Most Misleading Moments in Romney's Debate Performance
- Melanie Eversley, USA Today: Romney's 'Big Bird' debate comment stirs social media
- Factcheck.org: Dubious Denver Debate Declarations (Oct. 4)
- George Farah with Amy Goodman, "Democracy Now!, Pacifica Radio: As Obama, Romney Hold First Debate, Behind the Secret GOP-Dem Effort to Shut Out Third Parties
- Keli Goff, theRoot.com: Yes, Romney Won the Debate. Sort Of.
- Emil Guillermo blog, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund: To all you Mittwagoners: Romney was good on camera in the first presidential debate, but what about the hidden camera truth (Oct. 4)
- Gwen Ifill, Washington Post: Five myths about presidential debates
- Glenn Kessler, Washington Post: Election 2012: Fact Check
- Richard Kim, the Nation: Jim Lehrer Gets Pwned [See definition]
- Colbert I. King, Washington Post: After a poor first debate, Obama must shape up
- Andria Krewson, Columbia Journalism Review: Protecting the polls in North Carolina As voter fraud allegations swirl, North Carolinians need deep, focused reporting
- Theodoric Meyer, ProPublica: What We Still Don't Know About Mitt Romney’s Taxes
- Jack Mirkinson, Huffington Post: Debate Moderators And Topics Continue To Draw Scrutiny; Jim Lehrer 'Seething' Over Criticism (Oct. 2)
- Pew Research Center for the People & the Press: Obama Expected to Win First Presidential Debate (Oct. 2)
- Pew Research Center for the People & the Press: Romney's '47%' Comments Criticized, But Many Also Say Overcovered (Oct. 1)
- Daniel Politi, slate.com: Pundits Agree: Romney Wins Round One — and It Wasn't Even Close
- Tracie Powell, Poynter Institute: Presidential Debate Commission co-chair blames TV networks for lack of diversity among moderators
- Margaret Sullivan, New York Times: In Real Time, and Beforehand, Checking Facts on the Presidential Debate
- Byron Tau, Politico: Gore blames Obama debate performance on Denver's altitude (Oct. 4)
- Krissah Thompson and Josh Hicks, Washington Post: Native Americans chafe at Brown-Warren race
- Mark Trahant, Indian Country Today Media Network: Prepping for the Debate — No Questions from Indian Country
- Erik Wemple, Washington Post: Jim Lehrer: A stand-in for American dissatisfaction with media
- Armstrong Williams blog, the Hill: Round one goes to Romney by a wide margin (Oct. 4)
- Gary Younge, the Guardian, Britain: Romney gets off the ground in a presidential debate light on zingers
- Mark Zandi, Washington Post: Obama policies ended housing free fall
A greater percentage of black consumers watches television news than do whites or Hispanics, according to a study of news consumption trends by the Pew Research Center for the People & The Press.
Sixty-nine percent of blacks said they received their news the previous day from television, compared with 56 percent of whites and 43 percent of Hispanics.
Forty-one percent of blacks said they watched the nightly network news regularly, and 50 percent watched cable news channels, compared with 26 percent of whites for the nightly news and 34 percent for cable news, and 21 percent of Hispanics for the nightly news and 27 percent for cable news.
African Americans have traditionally spent more time in front of the television than others.
The survey said Hispanics consumed news less than whites or blacks. When asked how they had received their news the day before, 33 percent responded "no news yesterday." Fourteen percent of whites and 15 percent of blacks responded "no news yesterday." No comparison with previous years was immediately available.
Overall, "The transformation of the nation's news landscape has already taken a heavy toll on print news sources, particularly print newspapers [PDF]," the center said in a report Thursday. "But there are now signs that television news — which so far has held onto its audience through the rise of the internet — also is increasingly vulnerable, as it may be losing its hold on the next generation of news consumers.
"Online and digital news consumption, meanwhile, continues to increase, with many more people now getting news on cell phones, tablets or other mobile platforms. And perhaps the most dramatic change in the news environment has been the rise of social networking sites. The percentage of Americans saying they saw news or news headlines on a social networking site yesterday has doubled — from 9% to 19% — since 2010. Among adults younger than age 30, as many saw news on a social networking site the previous day (33%) as saw any television news (34%), with just 13% having read a newspaper either in print or digital form."
The Pew Research Center provided Journal-isms with a breakout of blacks and Hispanics this week. Some 3,003 people were in the sample; 281 were black and 300 were Hispanic.
- Andrew Beaujon, Poynter Institute: Pew: Half of Americans get news digitally, topping newspapers, radio (Sept. 27)
- Jeff Sonderman, Poynter Institute: One-third of adults under 30 get news on social networks now (Sept. 27)
"One night before the first presidential debate, conservatives Matt Drudge, Sean Hannity, and Tucker Carlson hyped footage of a five-year-old speech by then-Sen. Barack Obama, widely covered at the time, in which the presidential candidate suggested the George W. Bush administration was discriminating against the victims of Hurricane Katrina," Dylan Byers reported Wednesday for Politico.
"But when footage finally aired on Hannity's Fox News program and on Carlson's Daily Caller website at 9 p.m., following hours of anticipation spurred by Drudge's promise of controversy and Hannity's promise of a 'bombshell', it fell flat.
" 'What's the "So what" of this video? I don’t think it's going to really go anywhere,' Republican Rep. Allen West said on Fox News.
" 'I don't think this particular speech is definitive,' said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, though he added that it was at least a 'reminder' of Obama's 'pattern of dishonesty.'
"If the footage failed to impress, it may be because Sen. Obama's remarks were widely covered — by Carlson, by Fox News, and by the mainstream media — when they were made on June 5, 2007. . . ."
- Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post: 'The Daily Caller' plays the race card badly
- Wayne Dawkins, politicsincolor.com: 'Shocking' Obama video from Fox News and friends
- Matt Gertz, Media Matters for America: RERUN: Fox, Carlson, Drudge Attacked Obama's Hampton Speech Five Years Ago
- Peter Ogburn, FishbowlDC: When is a Scoop Not a Scoop?
- Ian Schwartz, Real Clear Politics: MSNBC's Kornacki On Race Tape: Let's Agree To Marginalize Matt Drudge
- David Taintor, Talking Points Memo: Tucker Carlson: 'Throne-Sniffers' In Media Dismissing Obama Vid As Old News
- Meenal Vamburkar, mediaite.com: Tucker Carlson Reported Obama Video In 2007 On MSNBC, Slammed Politicization Of 'Unjustifiable' Crime
- Todd Allen Wilson, Daily Press, Newport News, Va.: Fox News' Hannity criticizes Daily Press video of 2007 Obama speech at Hampton University
"Washington Post columnist George Will has a novel explanation for why President Barack Obama continues to lead challenger Mitt Romney in the polls: it's because Obama is black," Joy-Ann Reid wrote Tuesday for the Grio.
"Seriously, that's Will's reasoning.
"The idea is this: the country, its economy, and the Obama administration are in 'shambles,' to quote Will. Unemployment is at 8 percent. Durable goods orders are down! And who among us doesn't hinge our vote on the metric of durable goods? Tesla Motors isn't doing well — TESLA! — despite a major cash infusion from the Department of Energy, and as we all know, as goes Tesla, so goes the nation. Therefore, Romney should be mopping the floor with Obama.
"So why isn't Mitt ahead in the polls? Will's explanation starts with his favorite metaphor: baseball…
" 'A significant date in the nation's civil rights progress involved an African American baseball player named Robinson, but not Jackie. The date was Oct. 3, 1974, when Frank Robinson, one the greatest players in history, was hired by the Cleveland Indians as the major leagues' first black manager. But an even more important milestone of progress occurred June 19, 1977, when the Indians fired him. That was colorblind equality.
" 'Managers get fired all the time. The fact that the Indians felt free to fire Robinson — who went on to have a distinguished career managing four other teams — showed that another racial barrier had fallen: Henceforth, African Americans, too, could enjoy the God-given right to be scapegoats for impatient team owners or incompetent team executives.'
"And how is Barack Obama like Jackie Robinson? I think you can guess. . . "
- Wayne Bennett, the Field Negro: Mr. Will's race card.
- Joe Strupp, Media Matters for America: Black Journalists Association President: George Will Column "Narrow-Minded"
- Mark A. Thompson, Uptown: George Will Says President Obama Is Winning Because He Is Black
- Rachel Manteuffel, Washington Post: PostScript: George Will and firing Obama
State Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., left, is among those interviewed in the next "Latino in America" episode. Kihuen had hoped to be Nevada's first-ever Latino U.S. congressman. He dropped out of the race in February. (Video)
CNN's "Latino in America" series returns on Sunday as Soledad O'Brien, CNN anchor and special correspondent, "reports on how Democrats and Republicans are reaching out to the swing voter demographic of Latinos, with a lens on the pivotal state of Nevada, a state with both the fastest-growing Latino community in the nation, and a state that has voted for the last 24 of the last 25 U.S. presidents," CNN announces.
Asked what message there would be for fellow journalists, O'Brien told Journal-isms by telephone on Wednesday, "We take a very nuanced approach to this important population. I was surprised by the degree that both parties have serious challenges. Latinos are feeling very unheard. Some of it is immigration and some is the message carried out in the GOP primaries."
O'Brien, daughter of a white Australian father and a black Cuban mother, was named "Journalist of the Year" by the National Association of Black Journalists in 2010. NABJ called her "the impetus of CNN's acclaimed 'In America' franchise, which began with CNN's "Black In America" in 2008." Later the series looked at "Latino in America" and "Gay in America."
In March, CNN laid off dozens of employees in its two documentary units, including the "In America" unit. But it promised the "In America" series would continue. The last "Latino in America" aired aired Sept. 25, 2011.
"Latino in America: Courting Their Vote" debuts on CNN/U.S. on Oct. 7 at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET and PT, repeating Saturday, Oct. 13 at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET and PT on CNN/U.S.
Kimberly Arp-Babbit is the senior producer. Cameo George, Robert Howell, Tina Matherson, Elizabeth Nunez and Dave Timko are the producers. Jennifer Hyde is the managing editor and Bud Bultman and Geraldine Moriba executive produced the documentary for CNN. Howell and Timko are no longer with CNN.
- "Univision News' award-winning anchors of 'Noticiero Univision,' Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas, were honored with the reputable Lifetime Achievement Award, the first Hispanics to receive this recognition in the News and Documentary category, from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS)," Univision announced on Tuesday. "The 33rd Annual News and Documentary Emmy® Awards were presented during a ceremony [Monday] night at the Time Warner Center in New York."
- New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and director Spike Lee unveiled a campaign called "Flip the Script" that focuses on "changing the attitudes of and about young black men," Claire Galofaro reported Tuesday for the Times-Picayune. "It is part of Landrieu's 'Nola For Life' initiative to halt the city's murder rate, a rate 10 times the national average with a killing every two days on average." At the National Association of Black Journalists convention in June, Landrieu held up three thick folders containing files on murder victims and implored the journalists to "Tell the stories of these young people who take and are taken for all America to see." Jarvis DeBerry column.
- Valerie Taliman, Indian Country Today Media Network's West Coast editor, received the Native American Women in Leadership Award for her investigative journalism and media advocacy on behalf of indigenous victims of violence, particularly Indian women, Gale Courey Toensing reported Monday for the network.
- Hugo Balta, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, "says that young Latinos entering the journalism field sometimes fail to see the steps and years of hard work. He advises them to be focused and strategic," Karen Cortés wrote in a profile of Balta for ctlatinonews.com. " 'It's not buying lottery tickets. It's using what's between your ears,' he says. 'You can achieve both short term and long term goals. A mentor can help. A lot of young people say they'll do anything to get a foot in the door, but if you choose a path that is not faithful to your long term plan, you are no closer to your goal. Be strategic at the beginning; you’ll be successful at the end.' "
- "Tyler Perry's new exclusive deal to create programming for Oprah Winfrey's OWN means he is shelving his ambitions to launch his own cable network," Joe Flint reported Monday for the Los Angeles Times.
- José Díaz-Balart, an Emmy Award winning journalist, Telemundo's news anchor, MSNBC contributor and host and managing editor of public-affairs weekly program Enfoque, was to be presented with the 2012 Award for Outstanding Achievement in Hispanic Television by Multichannel News and Broadcasting & Cable Wednesday at the 10th annual Hispanic Television Summit in New York, Laura Martinez reported Monday for Multichannel News.
- "Activist Jose Antonio Vargas hit a brick wall this morning, as New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan endorsed the newspaper's policy of using the term 'illegal immigrant': 'It is clear and accurate; it gets its job done in two words that are easily understood,' she wrote on her blog. Vargas has been campaigning to get the Times and the Associated Press to drop the term 'illegal immigrant' on the grounds that it dehumanizes the millions of people living in the U.S. illegally," John Hudson wrote Tuesday on his Atlantic blog.
- "The newspapers that make up the Los Angeles News Group have been gradually blending over recent months," LAObserved reported on Tuesday, "and today take a big step toward being a regional news operation with the emphasis on digital — and less on geography. Carolina Garcia, for instance, is no longer editor of the Daily News but managing editor for enterprise and investigations across all the papers. There are new managing editors for digital news, digital operations and the 'content center,' though in each case the new MEs are still involved in 'reader engagement' in the areas where they used to run the newspapers, and editors there will still report to them."
- " 'Transitioning' began in earnest at Dallas-based CW33 Monday, with reporters Dawn Tongish and Charles Bassett notified that they will not be part of the station's drastically revamped prime-time newscast," Ed Bark reported Tuesday on his Uncle Barky's blog. "The dismissals also included roughly a dozen off-camera personnel."
- "Pablo S. Torre is leaving Sports Illustrated for a spot with its rival, ESPN The Magazine," Chris O'Shea reported Wednesday for FishbowlNY. "Torre had been with SI since 2007. At ESPN he will be a senior writer and contribute to the magazine as well as ESPN.com."
- ". . . Touré of MSNBC is the man who has every intelligent black person in America wondering why he's on TV, myself included," Dr. Boyce Watkins wrote for his yourblackworld.net. "There are no credentials in his background which lead you to believe that he should be defining the direction of national thought on serious political issues (the bio I found says that he dropped out of Emory University in 1992). He also seems to say things for entertainment, rather than substantive, value and doesn't seem to take his work all that seriously."
- "Steve Harvey is elated. Just a few weeks into his eponymous new talk show, the former stand-up comedian has wrapped a taping at Chicago's NBC Studios with his biggest and most famous guest to date: first lady Michelle Obama," Karu F. Daniels wrote for the Daily Beast. " 'It was such an unbelievable gift,' he says. 'Of all the shows, she came on mine' . . ." The episode was to air Wednesday, the Obamas' 20th wedding anniversary.
- "President Barack Obama's strong defense of freedom of speech at the United Nations last month was clearly directed at the sputtering young Arab and North African democracies, where violent anti-American protests were ostensibly sparked by a video (Why don't people stop calling it a film?) that insulted the Prophet Muhammad," Charlayne Hunter-Gault wrote Wednesday for theRoot.com. "The president's tough speech followed his late-night call to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, demanding that he get control of the demonstrations by alleged radical Islamists. The big stick that President Obama wielded was America's huge aid to Egypt. And presto, the Egyptian president complied. The same tactic could be used in Ethiopia, where not only is the new leadership continuing the previous government's ongoing repression of independent journalists — including those imprisoned on specious charges — but it is getting even more repressive."
- "Rami Aysha, a correspondent for major international media including Time Magazine, Spiegel Online and GlobalPost, was tortured during nearly one month of detention by Lebanese security forces," Reporters Without Borders said on Tuesday. "Arrested on 30 August, Aysha was freed on 27 September on bail . . . "
- "An $80,000 fine levied against an Ecuadorean magazine accused of spreading political propaganda constitutes a direct attack on freedom of expression," Scott Griffen reported Tuesday for the International Press Institute. "Ecuador's Electoral Arbitration Tribunal (TCE, according to its Spanish acronym) ruled last week that a May 4, 2011 editorial published by Vistazo magazine urging voters to reject elements of a popular referendum held three days later amounted to political propaganda, thereby violating Article 277 of the country’s electoral law, known as the 'Democracy Code.' "
Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site BugMeNot.com provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.
Send tips, comments and concerns to Richard Prince.
To be notified of new columns, contact firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us who you are.
- Richard Prince with Charlayne Hunter-Gault, "PBS NewsHour," "What stagnant diversity means for America’s newsrooms" (Dec. 15, 2015)
- Journalists Follow Their Passions
- Journalists Who Rocked Their World
- Hands Up! Read This!
- New Cosby Bio Looks Like a Best-Seller
- "Love, Peace and Soul!" And More
- Journo-diversity advocate turns attention to Ezra Klein project
(Erik Wemple, Washington Post, March 5, 2014)
- "Love, Peace and Soul!" And More
- Book Notes: Soothing the Senses, Shocking the Conscience
- Diversity's Greatest Hits, 2015
- Diversity's Greatest Hits, 2014
- Diversity's Greatest Hits, 2013
- Diversity's Greatest Hits, 2012
- Diversity's Greatest Hits, 2011
- Diversity's Greatest Hits, 2010
- Diversity's Greatest Hits, 2009
- Diversity's Greatest Hits, 2008
- Books to Ring In the New Year
- In-Your-Face Holiday Reads
- Fishbowl Interview With the Fresh Prince of D.C. (Oct. 26, 2012)
- NABJ to Honor Columnist Richard Prince With Ida B. Wells Award (Oct. 11, 2012)
- So What Do You Do, Richard Prince, Columnist for the Maynard Institute? (Richard Horgan, FishbowlLA Aug. 22, 2012)
- Who Am I? What's Race Got to Do With It?: Journalists Explore Identity
- Catching Up With Books for the Fall
- Richard Prince Helps Journalists Set High Bar (Jackie Jones, BlackAmericaWeb.com, 2011)
- 10 Ways to Turn Pages This Summer
- 7 for Serious Spring Reading
- 7 Candidates for the Journalist's Library
- 9 That Add Heft to the Bookshelf
- Five Minutes With Richard Prince (Newspaper Association of America, 2005)
- 'Journal-isms' That Engage and Inform Diverse Audiences (Q&A with Mallary Jean Tenore, Poynter Institute, 2008)
Your tax-deductible contribution will help us carry out Dori's vision of fair, accurate and equitable media for all segments of society.
"No graduate school of journalism, no graduate school of business, no program anywhere, contributed to the news industry what the Maynard programs did." - Donald E. Graham
Donald E. Graham, Chairman Graham Holdings Co.,