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Americans tuning in to the first presidential debate last night got a chance to make their first side-by-side comparison of President George W. Bush and his democratic challenger Senator John Kerry. Shortly after the debate, KSMU's Missy Shelton asked two SMS professors to share their analysis of the debate.
JOINING ME IN THE STUDIO TO TALK ABOUT THE FIRST PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE IS ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE BRIAN ELLISON.
LAST SPRING HE WAS A VISITING PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AT ST PETERSBURG STATE UNIVERSITY IN RUSSIA.
AND JOINING THE CONVERSATION BY PHONE IS MARK PAXTON.
MARK IS AN ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR IN THE MEDIA, JOURNALISM AND FILM DEPARTMENT. BEFORE ENTERING ACADEMIA, MARK WORKED AS A JOURNALIST FOR 14 YEARS, OFTEN COVERING POLITICS.
I'D LIKE TO START WITH A GENERAL QUESTION...ARE DEBATES IMPORTANT TO ELECTIONS IN THIS COUNTRY?
Brian: Debates are an important part of the process. It's an opportunity to see candidates side-by-side and see how they perform.
Mark: I think this is important in terms of how the media cover the debate, especially the post-debate analysis that goes on. You have instant polling now. Two networks did instant polls of undecided voters. So, how the media handle the debate is just as important as what's said in the debate.
Missy: Does it become more about whatever the media want to focus on and less about substantive policy discussions?
Mark: I think it does. In the past few elections, you've had spin rooms. Supporters of each candidate come out and say why their candidate won. Now you have these networks reporting from the spin rooms and letting the supporters give their side of the debate. I'm not sure that helps us understand what's said during the debate.
Brian: I agree that it's more about what the media makes it. The media does not make of it substantive issues. They do polls and they pay attention to how citizens react. But I don't think there are Americans who watch debates with an open mind. Most people have a bent or an inclination and so they're looking for affirmation. They see what they want to see. It becomes a numbers game and they're just playing those polls.
Missy: We're past this first debate but there are two more debates remaining. What will people be looking for in these upcoming debates?
Mark: What people will be looking at, at least in the media...They'll be treating these debates as sporting events. What struck me about this debate is how this debate was treated almost like a Super Bowl. Some networks were doing a countdown to the start of the debate. We talk about the post-game analysis. I think the media coverage of the upcoming debates will all about who's going to win, not what's said.
Missy: We know that's the reality of it, Brian but as a political scientist that has to be disheartening.
Brian: It is disheartening. That is a great analogy. I would hope though that people would use it as an opportunity to make learn something about the problems we have in this country or the wonderful things we have in this country. But once again, I think most people go into it with their minds made up. Literally, no one is going to find that their candidate is going to lose.
Missy: Thank you for joining me.
Brian and Mark: Thank you.