THURSDAY, OCTOBER 1, 2020
...along come the framework gods: The undecided will always be with us.
Old Testament prophets first stated the principle—and they did so long ago.
Every four years, news orgs flock to the undecideds at roughly this point in the White House campaign. Up to a point, it makes good sense that they would do so.
Today, though, the New York Times adopts a classic "both sides did it" approach to its report about the way the undecideds viewed Tuesday evening's debate.
It wasn't just Trump, it was Biden too! The familiar old framework was in control right from the start of the piece:
LERER AT AL (10/1/20): “Useless.” “Ridiculous.” “Horrible.”
Undecided voters approached the first presidential debate between President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. with some hope of hearing policies and plans that could help them make a decision they had been mulling for months.
Instead, they listened with a mix of disgust and dismay, appalled by the name-calling and lack of decorum of a debate that seemed to shatter any remaining belief that political norms might prevail in a national moment that is anything but normal.
“They seemed like little kids arguing. Or maybe old guys arguing in a diner somewhere. Maybe that’s where they belong—in some diner arguing, not on the national stage,” said Ellen Christenson, 69, of Stevens Point, Wis. “I am just so disappointed in the evening. I don’t have any more information than when I started watching.”
The undecideds were hoping to learn—and the two old guys screwed it up! This is very familiar old stuff.
From that opening passage, a reader might think that the undecideds saw the two men as equally guilty of ruining Tuesday's debate. On a journalistic basis, this is the classic old "they both did it" approach.
It's a time-honored, ass-kissing framework. According to this standard framing, neither one of these dopes is as great as we voters deserve.
But did that framework really make sense with respect to Tuesday's debate? For example, does that framework seem to make sense in this early passage?
LERER ET AL: A majority of Americans say they believe the nation’s politics are deeply dysfunctional, framing the election in starkly existential terms. Most say they think the contest will decide whether the United States will remain a prosperous democracy, a view that cuts across age, gender, race, region and ideology.
Tuesday night’s debate only exacerbated those fears. In the highest-profile moment of the highly charged campaign, the candidates presented insults and interruptions rather than plans to help a fearful and anxious country emerge from a period of national crisis.
Neither man detailed proposals for managing a pandemic still roiling the economy, education and daily life. Mr. Trump left voters with little indication of what he might do if re-elected beyond fiercely attack his opponents. And Mr. Biden, who often struggled to complete a sentence because of interruptions from his rival, didn’t dive into the specifics of his plans beyond promising a greater respect for scientists and public health experts.
Question! If Biden "often struggled to complete a sentence" due to Trump's interruptions, does it make sense to complain that he failed to "detail his proposals?"
Biden could barely finish a sentence! That said, did Biden possibly interrupt just as much as Trump did?
That's the world's most obvious question! Below, you see the New York Times' non-assessment assessment:
LERER ET AL: Mr. Trump interrupted 741 times, according to the online tracker Factbase feed, striking a combative position even with Chris Wallace, the moderator of the event. He attacked Mr. Biden’s son Hunter in deeply personal terms by raising his struggles with drug addiction.
Trump interrupted Biden (and Wallace) more than 700 times! So how many times did Biden interrupt?
Lerer and her fellow reporters make no attempt to say! Nor do they provide a link to the Factbase feed, or to any other possible source of data.
As everyone knows, there's little obvious point in interviewing a very small sample of voters. In this case, there's no way to know if these undecideds viewed the debate the way other undecideds did.
For that reason, this exercise is essentially pointless right from the start. It becomes even worse when journalists force a tired old framework onto what is little more than an exercise in killing time and taking up space.
In this case, most of the people to whom the Times spoke seem to have been complaining about the behavior of Candidate Trump.
That doesn't necessarily tell you anything either. But things got worse when the framework gods came along with a tired old mandate.
The framework gods said that both men did it. Quickly, the Times fell in line.