As President Obama and Mitt Romney met for their third debate Monday, viewers and journalists settled into a slightly rote script. We sent funny tweets, then compiled the best ones. The nation’s fact-checkers went to work, as did our makers of memes. Twitter collected data related to all these efforts.
Here’s what journalists had to say about Bob Schieffer as moderator:
- Schieffer got good marks, even from the Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell, whose Newsbusters.org had compiled a dossier on Schieffer in advance. “Schieffer managed to moderate this debate without revealing his own positions,” AP TV writer David Bauder quotes Bozell as saying in a statement. “Well done.” Schieffer “did a superb job of implementing the new format,” Commission on Presidential Debates executive director Janet Brown told Politico’s Dylan Byers, who called Schieffer’s performance “the gold standard.”
- Schieffer had trouble keeping the candidates focused on foreign policy at times, and he had a small verbal goof (though he did not say “Obama bin Laden“). “If you’re a purist, maybe you like how Schieffer mostly avoided injecting himself into the proceedings,” Jeff Bercovici writes in a negative review. “Unfortunately, the result of his reticence was another tedious, low-information debate.” Tom Shales said Schieffer’s question “What is America’s role in the world” was “the dullest question of the night.”
Schieffer said at the opening that all the questions were his and that no one had seen them in advance. When it comes time for debates again, the organizers might want to think seriously about changing that policy.
“The candidates knew foreign policy decides few elections,” NPR’s David Folkenflik writes in his review. “And that came through loud and clear on TV.”
Like its predecessors, the third debate shared a nebulous border with pop culture. Some of the weirdness:
- There were more attempts at “live-GIFfing” the debate, with not entirely satisfactory results. Here’s the Guardian, here’s The Atlantic Wire, here’s one that I saw a lot on Twitter. Perhaps this particular form of commentary will have matured into something better by 2016.
- Young people read news and newspapers more than you might think, but Schieffer’s identity seemed to confound some of them on Twitter.
- This debate’s memes felt like an obligation, sort of the way Grantland’s Andy Greenwald described watching “Treme.” Adam Clark Estes counts “three Twitter accounts, two Tumblrs and a standalone website” that sprang up around the “horses and bayonets” meme within 30 minutes of Obama’s zinger involving those words. Politico’s Katie Glueck rounded up some of the “Sharp reaction” to that phrase on Twitter. And at least one person thought of us poor bloggers:
People forced to acknowledge cheap meme Twitter accounts in morning-after blog posts about debates are the real victims here.
— Maureen O’Connor (@maureenoco) October 23, 2012
There were some practical digital takeaways amid the wackiness, Charlie Warzel writes. Monday’s event was “the first debate where the Twitter-sponsored hashtag “#debates” failed to trend across the U.S. for the duration of the debates,” he notes. Blame the high-ticket sporting events it competed with, or foreign policy, he suggests, a subject “simply harder for average Americans to get excited about compared to the more tangible domestic issues.”