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Marianne Paskowski

Viewers Blast ABC’s ‘Gotcha’ Debate, But They Watched

April 18, 2008 10:26 AM

I just knew yesterday when I got that email blast from the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org that ABC would pay in the headlines today. (MoveOn supports Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama and not his opponent Hillary Clinton.)

Press coverage today was indeed highly critical of the way ABC’s Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos led a debate between Democratic hopefuls Clinton and Obama on Wednesday.

ABC News’ Web site was jammed with comments highly critical of the “gotcha” style of the first 45 minutes of the two-hour debate. The moderators focused on Obama’s link to Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his more recent comments about rural Americans using guns and religion as crutches.

Clinton didn’t fare any better, being constantly reminded of her false campaign claim that she was under fire in Bosnia while first lady.

Frankly, by the time the questioning moved on to more pertinent issues like the economy and the war in Iraq, I was surfing elsewhere.

Did you watch? Do you think ABC’s two moderators were out of control? I do.

But it doesn’t matter. Wednesday’s ABC debate was the most-watched of this political race, attracting 10.7 million viewers according to Nielsen Media Research.

So expect to see more of the same in upcoming debates.


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Comments (10)

Gail Meyers Lavin:

My first blog response! I had the same reaction but would have stated it more strongly! Not only was the whole event choppy due to the insertion of ads at odd places; but I have never heard either one of the questioners sound so inept.

At least on Sundays George can be quite pointed when he wants to push a question - Here, he could hardly get his words out!

And wasn't this to be the "last debate about issues??"

Bad bad bad - and a lot of people really watched?? Even the Red Sox losing was better TV.


Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Gail,

Welcome to my other life off Cape and thanks for your thoughtful response. George was at his worst, probably awkward for him, considering he worked for the Bill Clinton administration.

But he's supposed to be an unbiased journalist now. I wonder about that.

Onward we go,


Jeff Mulligan:

Marianne --

It's been tempting to think that the voters' lack of sophistication and sensibility is the reason the Democratic primary battle has spiraled downward to egregiously trivial levels.

But as you so correctly imply, the real blame falls on the media, its apotheosis being the pitiful Gibson/Stephanopolis performance Wednesday night. Either they thought the public is too stupid to care about issues, or they're too stupid to get beyond the simplistic he said-she said accusations made by desperate candidate campaign committees. Seems to me that George and Charlie, and many of their media colleagues, are the real elitists.


Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Jeff,

Frankly the George and Charlie show, their so called moderation of the Democratic debate, looked to me, more like an audition for the next reality show.

I was among the many disappointed viewers. I used to defend news gathering organizations. I now have second thoughts.

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. And shame on ABC News.


Dr. Foster K. Williamson, PhD:

Dear Ms. Paskowski --

My colleagues and I at The Institute have run extensive statistical analyses of TV debate audience data correlated to additional contemporaneous viewer preferences and various other longitudinal numerical series, on leading, lagging and moving average bases decomposed to reveal underlying psychometric phenomena. Log-linear conjoint modeling adjusted with Fogarty's simplex variation has been the most revealing, yielding several insights concerning Wednesday's contest.

Among them:

-- A large proportion of the senior citizen audience thought it was watching an "I Love Lucy Meets Amos But Not Andy" retrospective special.

-- Younger viewers thought the entire 90 minutes was one of George Stephanopolis's popular "Sunday Funnies" sequences. One of the funnier ones, actually.

-- The youngest voters in the Wednesday debate audience, similar to their reaction to earlier debates, are beginning to wonder if the "old white guys" they usually deride might actually have the best political policy viewpoints after all.

-- Bosnian-Americans wonder if their adopted nation might be better off had the fabled Tuzla snipers actually been in the audience Wednesday.

-- Most viewers have now decided they would prefer an unmarried transgender candidate of Native American-Asian descent.

-- Cassell's Logic Continuation Algorithm suggests that any moderators for future debates be intellectually tuned to the questions favored by broadcast and cable journalists. An appropriate match: Paris Hilton and Pee Wee Herman probe for the candidates' recommendations for American Idol voting reform.

Dr. Foster K. Williamson PhD

Marianne Paskowski:

Dr. W,

Are your findings peer reviewed?

Thanks for your mind boggling comments that I don't pretend to understand.




I agree that ABC should've focused on the real issues at hand, but let's face it- Americans know absolutely nothing about Barack Obama due to his little time in Washington and I think ABC News just wanted to give us more insight. Unfortunately, it went off for them pretty poorly. As for the issues themselves, I never hear the candidates talking about them, all I hear at least recently is how Clinton and Obama are fighting. ABC was just giving them a national audience.
Keep up the great posts,

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Jason,

You know, the unfortunate thing, and I'm just as guilty here, is that the good stuff about the economy and Iraq happened way later into the debate.

Those so called journalists on ABC, buried the lead. Should have started with the issues, and then the other stuff.

Thanks for your post,



I think it is so sad that our Presidential race has been diluted to to its current status.

We the people are to blame.

Regarding last Wednesday night's installment of "Debased Debate", I can only say that I think Charlie knows better, so I'll give him a pass this time. George, on the other hand, needs a forced sabatical. He lathers at the mouth on every little worthless tidbit of political crap, like it is the turning point of our future. All his brilliance and mental capacity going to waste. Check his bag, is he hooked on Red Bull?

Historically I feel aweful. This structure of media has become a superhighway of pointless garbage. We could be doing so much more with it.

George COULD be the Brinkley of today and tomorrow. We know he has the capacity, but will he put his facility to higher good?. That is the question.
Peter Bright

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Peter,
I like George too. But he worked for the Clinton administration, i.e, made money. I think he should have recused himself moderating a debate between Obama and Hillary.

Well, tonight should be fun with the Penn. primary.

Thanks for your post,

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