To Win Debates, Go for Snap Over Substance

Postgame video replays matter more than issues
By Gabriel Winant,  Newser User
Posted Sep 22, 2008 2:35 PM CDT
Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore delivers a speech during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony at the City Hall in Oslo, Monday, Dec. 10, 2007.    (AP Photo/John McConnico)
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(Newser) – Better theater, not better substance, wins modern presidential debates, writes Michael Tomasky in the Guardian. Pundits will ordain a winner during the spin war that follows each clash—this year's first encounter is Friday—and “the candidate who wins the battle of the clips will be the 72-hour winner.” So the hopefuls must master one-liners, not policy nuance.

Immediately after Al Gore’s first debate with George Bush, the VP was judged the winner. But Gore lost retroactively because of the focus on his sighing, Tomasky argues: “The sighs, shown repeatedly on cable, became the story, symbolic of the ‘fact’ that Gore was too much a smarty-pants to be president.” In this way, Tomasky warns, "the instant, debate-night conventional wisdom can be turned on its head."