Earlier today, Howard Kurtz held his weekly chat where we covered such topics as the fate of opinion-based cable news shows; Gwen Ifill’s performance at the vice presidential debate; and the role of race in the presidential campaign. Some excerpts:
New York: Do you ever see a time when the partisan cable gabfest screaming-contest show dies out? Don’t all types of shows fall in and out of fashion, like reality shows and variety shows and sitcoms and what have you? Everything has its day, and then it’s replaced by something new, or something recycled. Are people starting to tire of these types of shows, which add nothing to the public discourse and in fact subtract from it, or do the ratings indicate that they will continue to plague us for some time to come?
Howard Kurtz: I personally know a lot of people who are tired of talking points and shouting matches, but the ratings say otherwise. The most opinionated prime-time shows on Fox and MSNBC are also those with the strongest ratings. They tend to attract (though not exclusively) partisan viewers who already agree with the host.
Seattle: I loved Gwen Ifill and her PBS show for many years and I hope her ankle gets better, but I think she lost control of the vice presidential debate on Thursday, allowing for nonanswers and going off the question. Do you think it was more because of the format, or that she needed to stop them when they were straying?
Howard Kurtz: I thought Ifill’s questions were too generally worded, giving the candidates a license to roam, and that she rarely tried to pin them down with followup questions. The format was constricting, but I don’t see why she couldn’t have framed her questions more around each candidate’s record as opposed to just asking what they think about climate change, for instance.
Burke, Va.: According to polls, blacks support Obama 95-2 percent. Yet most media talk is about hidden white racism against Obama. Maybe I missed it, but I have seen no in-depth analysis by your paper of any black racism against the white candidate, McCain. Or have your reporters decided that the 95 percent support is explained solely by an admirable racial pride? Should whites be able to vote on the basis of racial pride as well?
Howard Kurtz: There is a long history in this country of Italians voting for Italians, Irish voting for Irish, blacks voting for blacks (when that became possible), and so on. No one would dispute that racial and ethnic pride plays a role in voting behavior. The question of prejudice arises when someone votes against a candidate SOLELY BECAUSE of race or ethnicity. If voters who have always voted Democratic suddenly vote for McCain, that doesn’t mean they’re racist – they might just think McCain is a better or more experienced candidate than Obama. But racial attitudes could certainly play a role.