Kurtz: Presidential Debates Will Be “Huge”

Earlier today, Howard Kurtz held his weekly chat where he fielded questions on such topics as the upcoming presidential debates; press coverage of the candidates’ economic plans; and the upcoming interview of Sarah Palin by Katie Couric. Some excerpts:

Laurel, Md.: Hi Howard. With the first debate being on foreign policy, do you think that either candidate may change the subject and discuss the economy, given all the incredible happenings in the past week or two? How much of an impact do you feel the debates will have on the election, and will the vice presidential debate matter much in the end?

Howard Kurtz: The presidential debates will be huge. In a close election, it’s hard to think of another event as important as tens of millions of people getting to watch the two contenders face off three times.

I don’t know if the candidates will have the leeway to make the first debate more about the economy. I’m sure Obama would like to try, especially since national security is seen as closer to McCain’s turf.

I’m sure the VP debate will draw the biggest audience that any one of these running-mate faceoffs ever have. In the end, I suspect most people will vote for the top of the ticket, as they always have.

Southeast Washington: When Obama and the talking heads mock McCain for saying the fundamentals of our economy are strong, why doesn’t some smart reporter ask them about those fundamentals? Inflation is low, unemployment is very low by historical standards, productivity is up, and we’re not in a recession (check the growth figures for the past year!). But you sell more papers predicitng disaster than proclaiming everything’s not too bad!

Howard Kurtz: The first point is certainly fair (although McCain backed off the comment with notable speed). The “fundamentals” could be sound, even in a recession or crisis–anyone want to trade our economy for another country’s? But I hardly think anyone is trying to sell papers by predicting disaster. There IS a disaster unfolding, from Fannie/Freddie/Lehman/AID to this $700-billion bailout which could end up costing even more, and we are covering it. In fact, news organizations would have been doing their duty if they had sounded a louder alarm in recent years about the risks of this shadow banking system that has now essentially collapsed.

Falls Church, Va.: Its seems to me that both Katie Couric and Sarah Palin have much to gain and/or lose in the interview. Certainly, Katie can get an immediate bump in the ratings, but if she goes too hard or too soft, she has the potential of huring herself with voters. Similarly, Palin has to show that she can handle herself with one of the nation’s nightly anchors. How do you expect the interview to play out?

Howard Kurtz: Don’t know. I don’t think the stakes are quite as high as when Charlie Gibson sat down with Palin, if only because this is her third television interview, not her first. Does Katie have more leeway to ask certain questions because she is a woman? Not sure. I agree, though, that it’s a big moment for both of them.