At the end of a 15-round match, the last thing a fatigued fight fan wants from the officials is a collective sigh and an educated shrug that the bout was a draw. Fans want and deserve winners, and the officials who refuse to say one guy had an edge over the other guy—however slim—should seek a new line of work.
The same goes for the pundits who go on the air after 90-minute televised political debates. The whole point of a debate—like a prizefight—is for somebody to win, and a pundit who declares a debate a draw is as worthless as the pundit who says “no comment” to a direct question.
And yet, there was CNN’s senior political pundit, Jeff Greenfield, playing Hamlet with the results of last night’s contest between Dick Cheney and John Edwards when the bell rang.
Wolf Blitzer asks, “Jeff, what do you think?”
Greenfield, as decisive a pundit as they build, filibusters for 200 words with meta-analysis before saying, “The conservatives who were decidedly unhappy with George Bush last week were happier with Dick Cheney tonight. The Democrats, the pro-Kerry people were perfectly happy with John Edwards.”
As if suffering from echolalia, Blitzer shoots Greenfield’s “analysis” right back at him: “I think it is clear that if you’re a Bush/Cheney supporter, you certainly thought Cheney won. If you’re a Kerry/Edwards supporter, you thought Edwards won.”
Next up to share his opinion is CNN political analyst Carlos Watson, who instantly contracts Blitzer’s echolalia: “I think that if you’re a Cheney supporter, you were happy; if you’re an Edwards supporter, you were happy.”
To find somebody to declare a winner, Blitzer has to call the campaigns.
“Do you think this was a pretty evenly divided, evenly matched debate as opposed to the first one where your candidate John Kerry seemingly did a lot better?” Blitzer asks Kerry Campaign Manager Mary Beth Cahill.
“I think that John Edwards came off by far the better,” she says, to nobody’s surprise. Blitzer promptly balances the equation by collecting Bush Campaign Manager Ken Mehlman’s opinion. Need you ask?
CNN anchor Judy Woodruff scotches the notion that one person in the press corps might have awarded the match to either contestant: “I talked to also reporters who, you know, one assumes they’re coming at this from the center. In their opinion this debate was close to a draw.”
Who won Cheney vs. Edwards? Obviously, neither candidate scored a knockout or even a knockdown, but the unanimity of CNN’s early commentators strikes me as suspicious. It’s in a reporter’s nature to disagree! Had I scored the match, I would have given it to Edwards on points.
The CNN commentators leaned ever so slightly in John Kerry’s favor after the first presidential debate. Perhaps they feared they’d be accused of political bias if they picked another Democrat in the veep battle. Maybe the only thing a CNN commentator is more hesitant to do than call a winner in one debate is to call a winner in two.
And I’d give the first one to Kerry on a TKO. Send your score cards to firstname.lastname@example.org. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)