New York (CNN Business)A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Tuesday’s face-off between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden could go down in history as the most-watched political event of all time.
In 2016, 84 million people watched the first debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton — the current record. This year, with interest in the presidential election so high, I think it has a chance to top 2016. Stelter said he’s doubtful because the curiosity in Trump as a debate performer has subsided and politics fatigue has taken a toll on the country.
Nevertheless, the debate will be an event that a large chunk of the country watches in unison. The lines dividing the various echo chambers will temporarily be erased, and Americans tuning in will see the same debate with no ideological filters applied by the platform in which they are viewing it. Unlike other political events, like say the impeachment inquiry, it will be a moment when there is some shared reality among those who watch. “In today’s fractured media world, no other moment in a campaign draws such a mass audience,” noted Los Angeles Times David Lauter and Janet Hook.
>> Quick reminder: The 90-minute debate will air commercial free all across cable news and the broadcast networks, in addition to being streamed online. It begins at 9pm ET.
While Americans tuning in to the debate will see the same version of events, expect a stream of partisan commentary and disinformation in its immediate aftermath. Once the debate concludes, the lines that divide our fragmented information world will go right back up. One thing to pay attention to: video clips edited in deceptive ways being circulated on social media. The Trump campaign has a tendency to cut videos in a misleading manner. Social media platforms have allowed such clips to amass millions of views before taking action. Will these platforms be ready Tuesday night?
Will the debate change minds?
That’s perhaps the million-dollar question heading into Tuesday’s square-off. The presidential race has been mostly steady throughout the last few months, despite various explosive news reports and a rocky news cycle. Monmouth University released some polling numbers that might indicate whether the debate will have an impact. According to Monmouth, about three in four voters plan to tune in, but only 3% said they are very likely to hear something that could change their vote.
>> “These results underscore the fact that the audience for these debates are voters who already have a rooting interest in one side or the other,” commented Monmouth polling director Patrick Murray.
>> Another interesting data point: “Most (63%) say they would like to see the moderator of the debate fact check any false information a candidate shares during the debate, while only 30% feel that should fall to the two candidates.”
‘Moderating a presidential debate is like directing traffic’
In a piece outlining why Chris Wallace “won’t be the Trump-slaying moderators liberals crave,” Politico’s Jack Shafer wrote that “moderating a presidential debate is like directing traffic.” Shafer noted that “presidential debates—which aren’t actually debates but unruly tandem press conferences, as many have noted—place moderators at a disadvantage.” In other words, don’t expect Wallace to relentlessly grill Trump onstage as he might in an interview.
>> Wallace himself says his plan is to be “as invisible as possible…”
For the record
— “The few-frills format of Tuesday’s debate — two candidates, two lecterns, one moderator — is a break from highly produced events, like virtual conventions and overloaded primary debates, that have otherwise defined the major television moments of the 2020 presidential race,” Michael Grynbaum notes… (NYT)
— Brian Steinberg reports on how advertisers are rushing to TV’s debates and election coverage… (Variety)
— “Clubby reinforcements have been summoned. A stack of flashcards — question on front, response on back — is at the ready. A binder has been dutifully collated. Whether any of that helps President Donald Trump deliver a winning debate performance on Tuesday remains to be seen,” Kevin Liptak and Kaitlan Collins report… (CNN)
— Philippe Reines writes, “I played Trump in Clinton’s debate prep. Here’s what Biden can expect…” (WaPo)
— Trump had deflected questions about his taxes, but Peter Baker and Michael Shear write that the first debate now “has a new issue…” (NYT)
— “The report gave Biden … a fresh line of attack and left Trump struggling to defend himself on an issue that has dogged him throughout his presidency,” Toluse Olorunnipa and Sean Sullivan write… (WaPo)
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