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The post-debate analysis offers a chance to see a severe problem with our media, which is its focus on who "won" a debate and how the debate will effect the presidential race, rather than focus on the issues being debated.  For example,a headline piece from Politico.comdiscusses how Obama's apparent strategy of appearing calm and "presidential" backfired and allowed Romney to be more in control.  The same is true of headline pieces from CNNand Reuters. Demeanor and ability to hold one's own in a debate are important leadership qualities but the media's obsessive focus on these diminish the opportunity for democratic debate.  After a debate, citizens should be primarily talking about their impressions of the different candidate's policy proposals.  If this were the case, a debate could be a catalyst for democratic participation, as citizens would become more informed about the issues.

We can see the effects of the second-tier status of policies and issues by looking at how misinformed voters are.  For example, in a World Public Opinion survey of voters in the 2010 national elections, 40% thought TARP was initiated under Obama, not George W. Bush. Liberals had their own misinformation, believing that the US Chamber of Commerce was using large amounts of foreign money to fund campaigns.  Worst of all, the study found that people were more misinformed if they watched more news.

This is not an issue of liberal vs. conservative news outlets, since the focus on style is across the board, from FOXto MSNBC.  Democracy Now had a better focus by allowing 3rd party candidates to contrast their own views with Obama and Romney.  The value of 3rd parties is open to debate, but at least the focus is on issues.  I can't think of a better example of the need for alternative media such as Democracy Now or ZNet.

Adam Weiss blogs at politicalcreativity.net


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