The Deaf Claque

Because they’re worth clapping for…probably…

Last Night’s Democratic Debate: Hyperbolic Reporting

By Nathan Schmitt

Before last night’s debate, MSNBC along with other networks raised hype (Note: they update the article so it is now in the past tense) about the Democratic candidates ganging up on Hillary Clinton. The word “attack” came up many times in many articles but this seems to be a bit of a misrepresentation. First, here are some examples:

Moments later, the tone changed as [Barack Obama] launched the first of a series of attacks on Clinton, claiming the 2008 presidential race ‘requires us to be honest about the challenges that we face. It does not mean, I think, changing positions whenever it’s politically convenient.’“(1) (emphasis added)

and

John Edwards of North Carolina zeroed in on Clinton’s vote for a congressional resolution that declared Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.

That vote, he said, cleared the way for President Bush to invade Iran.

‘I mean, has anybody read this thing?’ Edwards asked. ‘I mean, it literally gave Bush and Cheney exactly what they wanted.’” (2)

Then continued to say,

The contention over the Iran resolution was the sharpest disagreement in a debate that saw Clinton, D-N.Y., come under a gang assault from a field of rivals hoping to chip away at her commanding lead in national polls.” (2) (emphasis added)

Now, it is almost impossible to argue that the news media–especially mainstream–has not become increasingly theatrical in the past few years, presumably for the sake of viewership. This seems acceptable to a degree from the perspective of the free market as well as news media organizations “as businesses” with corresponding interests. And, indeed, it can be argued quite well that this theatricality (hyperbolic misrepresentation in this case) does not harm public discourse in most cases. This may well be true. In most cases…

Despite the seemingly trivial nature of this particular instance (“gang assaults” or “attacks” on Hillary Clinton) it seems to point to a much more important and fundamental issue: the distinction between legitimate argument of ideas and personal attacks of character.

Very rarely do candidates within the sphere of debate attack others on a personal level–certainly considerably less than the media reports. This is a pretty big statement considering how much candidates’ “personal attacks” seem to come up in the mainstream media. Here is the distinction I think is imperative to make if one is to begin to analyze this national debate effectively:

Personal Attacks: Attack the worth of a person as a human being and are intended to debase their unique personality.

Ex: “I do not respect this person. He/she is a fundamentally evil person.”

Argument of Ideas: This includes any arguments intended to criticize those aspects that a person presents or doesn’t present to the public that are of substantial (in terms of qualitative content) concern to the issue at hand.

Examples of this range from criticizing positions on the war, to campaign money fund raising, to a person’s honesty.

I should also specify that questions of honesty are not personal attacks because they do not intend to devalue a person as a person, but rather to question their qualification for a specific position of responsibility.

In any case, it seems that the media would benefit the people to honestly make this distinction, though it seems slight, because such issues are the foundation on which we base our decisions about who will be the next leader of our country.

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October 31, 2007 Posted by | "The Candidates", 2008 Election, Debates, General Discourse, Hillary Clinton, Nathan Schmitt, The Media | , , , | Leave a comment

Tonight’s Republican Debate: Live Blog


The New York Times blog “The Caucus” is live blogging tonight’s republican debate. If you don’t have a TV, this could be a good resource. “The Caucus‘”Katharine Q. Seelye updates readers on what’s going on every few minutes through summary of points and exchanges. Just be warned that it is a third party source so I would recommend watching the actual debate at some point. I’m not sure how much new information this “debate” will bring though…

October 21, 2007 Posted by | 2008 Election, Debates | Leave a comment