MEDIA WATCH: Win, lose or draw - apathy reigns for candidates

As the first round of presidential debates on October 3 appeared to have little effect on public opinion, journalists and political analysts began evaluating the performance of both Gore and Bush. Focusing on everything from issues to demeanor to fashion, it became evident that, while the debate was largely considered a draw, both candidates achieved certain goals and emphasized certain weaknesses.

As the first round of presidential debates on October 3 appeared to have little effect on public opinion, journalists and political analysts began evaluating the performance of both Gore and Bush. Focusing on everything from issues to demeanor to fashion, it became evident that, while the debate was largely considered a draw, both candidates achieved certain goals and emphasized certain weaknesses.

As the first round of presidential debates on October 3 appeared to have little effect on public opinion, journalists and political analysts began evaluating the performance of both Gore and Bush. Focusing on everything from issues to demeanor to fashion, it became evident that, while the debate was largely considered a draw, both candidates achieved certain goals and emphasized certain weaknesses.

CARMA's research found that most journalists and analysts agreed that Gore had a better grasp on key issues. Spokespeople chided Bush for responding to policy questions with vague answers about 'fuzzy math' and highlighted his foreign policy gaffe regarding Russia's responsibility to Yugoslavia.

'Bush had some good lines, but the vice president stuck more to the issues, and that's what people really want,' stated DNC co-chairman Ed Rendell (Daily News, October 4).

In nearly as many reports, however, Gore's machine-like knowledge hit a sour note, especially when combined with his audible sighing and harrumphing during Bush's arguments. '(Gore) scored more technical points on issues like healthcare and abortion and tax cuts, but (he) came across like the kid who raises his hand to answer every question,' said editor-in-chief of The Hotline Craig Crawford (CBS, October 4).

Shouldered with fewer expectations than the vice president, Bush was applauded for holding his own against the more experienced debater. Many noted that Bush overcame what has been one of his biggest hurdles - demonstrating that he has the gravitas for the presidency.

While the candidates scored different points, most media concluded the debate ended in a tie. Some media noted that both candidates showed well, but many thought the draw was reached because neither candidate lost, not because both candidates won. Some blamed 'politics as usual' for a lack of enough substance to affect swing voters. Rutgers University political scientist Ross Baker said: 'Each candidate underscored his shortcomings instead of emphasizing his strengths' (USA Today, October 4).

While the media highlighted exaggerations and half-truths by both candidates, Republican sympathizers focused the spotlight on Gore regarding truth and character in the White House. 'Don't we understand the dangerous ramifications of somebody who just can't help themselves from making up stories?' questioned Crossfire co-host Mary Matalin (CNN, October 4).

Bush seemed to have made a mistake accusing Gore's character. While noted less often than Gore's distractive behavior, it achieved the same result - Bush's wordplay and jokes seemed to fall flat with journalists and focus groups. Some reports expressed that the governor should have shied away from attacking the vice president's character; many alluded to his less impressive grasp of the issues, implying that Bush was simply trying to deflect attention from his lack of experience.

Media were cautious to draw conclusions from this first exchange between the candidates. Polls still show both candidates in a dead heat, and the media appears to be taking a wait-and-see attitude.



- Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.



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