Magazine article Editor & Publisher

'Scoring' the Debate -- If It Ever Happens

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

'Scoring' the Debate -- If It Ever Happens

Article excerpt

Contention over who "really" won which televised political debate is often attributed to confusion on the part of political reporters who have succumbed to the honey-voiced spinmeisters after each contest.

During the six presidential campaigns I covered, I survived many a spin cycle, and I think there's something else going on here. Stark variables in opinion polls can be traced to a distinctly American propensity and cultural shibboleth: We watch way too much sports on the tube.

Then we allocate far too much importance to sports performance and measure almost everything in terms of sports achievement, even if we don't realize we're doing it. We now look at important political events through an athletic prism, and then we interpret the results through a rooting bias that comes naturally after years of partisan fandom.

I'm as guilty as anyone, and it leads to cloudy -- or wishful -- thinking.

The problem here is obvious. Unlike sports, there's no real way to keep score in presidential debates. The milieu is by definition too partisan for objective judgment. So let's do something about it. Let's change the rules. Let's keep score anyway.

Let's award extra points for successfully completing a metaphor. Let's deduct for plunging into the same line for the third or fourth time. Let's assess penalties for severe infractions.

If NASCAR can be Draconian enough to yank 25 racing season points away from Dale Earnhardt Jr. merely because he uttered a minor curse word in a victory jubilation, the Commission on Presidential Debates can certainly come up with a scoring system for the candidates trying to cross the finish line first in pursuit of the Oval Office. …

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