Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

Media Influencing the Debate?

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Media coverage of presidential debates is extensive, even days before a debate actually occurs. The coverage afterwards is intense, with all media sources trying to interpret the results of the debate for viewers. However, the most important part of presidential debates is the actual debates themselves.

Presidential debates can give undecided voters the opportunity they need to hear the candidates’ views on several policy positions. They judge candidates not only on policy positions, but also on their images. Candidates must look and sound presidential in addition to having policies devoted to helping the American people.

However, rather than just showing the debate, some media sources feel the need to increase their ratings by doing things to attract viewers. As I was watching the debate on ABC for part of the time Wednesday night, Tweets from viewers were appearing at the bottom of the screen. Rather than watching the actual debate and listening to the candidates speak, everyone in the room was reading the Tweets on the screen. Should media sources be allowed to do this, or should they be forced to just show the debate?

Controversy over debate coverage

The way in which news sources decide to cover the debates has always been controversial. The picture at the start of this article shows split-screen debate coverage, something that is now common and almost expected. However, at one point in history, the decision to use split-screen debate coverage ignited a firestorm from both parties.

Split-screen gives a viewer the ability to see both candidates when only one candidate is talking. This can hurt candidates, as it did in 2000 when Al Gore was seen sighing while George W. Bush was speaking. Presidential campaigns always worry about things like this happening, which was the reason split-screen coverage was so controversial when it was first thought of.

Even though split-screen coverage is now common, as the 2000 debates show, it has influence on viewers. The decision by the media to push for split-screen coverage clearly shows a desire to paint a different picture of the debate for the viewers.

Showing Twitter during the debate

The decision to show Tweets while candidates were speaking had a clear effect on viewers.  Just from my observations, it was obvious that people were reading the Tweets rather than listening to the candidates. This should not have been done during the debate as it takes away from the main point, hearing what the candidates have to say on the most pressing issues of the day.

The Tweets raise even more questions than just whether or not it should have been done. Did they show more Tweets while one of the candidates was speaking than the other? Were there more negative Tweets about one candidate than the other? Who decided what Tweets to show, and how did that person or group of people decide?

Other stations, like CNN, just showed the debate, and would only show the question asked by the moderator at the bottom of the screen. This is what should be done during debates. Viewers should have every opportunity to hear the debates without unneeded interference by media sources.


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