Friday, January 27, 2012

Hey, Reporters! (Debate Edition)

I've seen a few commenters (see for example here) treat the Florida debate audience last night as autonomous actors, neutral (between candidates) partisans who were honestly reacting to what they heard from the stage. I also read my brother the expert Romney-watcher's tweet during the action:
Strange that it took the Romney campaign 19 takes to realize that they should pack the debate hall.
I'm inclined to believe that it was a packed hall, and not spontaneous reactions -- but I don't know! Hey, reporters: first of all, we really should know whether Romney packed the hall or not last night. Second, and more basically: the audiences at GOP debates this year were a big story, and one that was underreported throughout. I know a lot of reporters are at this things live; who is packing the audience and how effectively should be a standard part of every debate story.

Pundits watching: be careful. And, I guess, I have to recommend this of all things: be more cynical. Please don't assume that debate audiences are a random cross-section of party voters. It's possible -- but campaigns rarely leave to chance those things that they can control, and if you don't know, it's safest to assume that an enthusiastic crowd is that way for a reason.


  1. Certainly the South Carolina debate led supporters of all candidates to see their reactions matter. I also sensed Romney was primed with more one liners (11 million grandmothers), and a general sense of Gingrich tactics (like taking Romney's tough stance on immigration and twisting it into something it isn't -- i.e., it's not night raids on grandmothers). Gingrich feeds on audience reaction, and that's part of what hurt him last night. He didn't feel the love and that made him quake. Not good for a debater.

  2. I only find it funny that CNN was able to land an unemployed woman with a question about affordable healthcare, and a Republican Palestinian-American with a question about peace in the middle east. I'm not suggesting that it was planned, but, I think it was a very unique coincidence.

    1. Why would it be funny that unemployed people are worried about affordable healthcare? Or that a Palestinian-American would be interested in middle east peace?

      These are the real issues Americans care about and presidents have to deal with.

      The "funny" thing is that they don't get more of these questions. It's almost as if these aren't problems to which the GOP is expected to have answers.

    2. What I meant to say was... That I believe that both questions(characters) were planned.

      My comments were not meant to suggest it is funny that there is someone who is unemployed and without affordable healthcare.

      I actually support universal healthcare, and I'm very sympathetic to the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Especially the fact that it's a one sided story here in America.

      But to me, a Republican Palestinian is just as funny as a Gay Republican. In the sense that they support a party in which the majority is against them.

  3. Has any reporter done a story on how one gets to be in the audience at a debate? Because that would be a useful, interesting story.

  4. Actual journalism follows (or at least the results of a couple minutes of Googling): the next debate, according to one of the schedule pages, is 2/22 in Mesa, AZ. This page tells you how to get tickets; for those unwilling to click thru, it looks as though you have to buy a "Trunk 'N Tusk" membership, basic level $1500. If you are a precinct committeeman, you can get in for $200. As with the Iowa Straw Poll, it's a safe bet that the candidates buy a lot of those tix.

  5. Apparently many reporters on the trail would rather hang out in the press room and send each other amusing but pointless tweets mocking the (very mockable) debates. I get it: they have an exhausting and relentless job in the new news cycle. But yes, JB, this seems like a really easy way that some reporter could helpfully distinguish themselves with an original, value-added story. Even the most basic field work would be more than we have now. I guess norms and routines are overwhelming.


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