Most political pundits know that presidential debates, particularly these absurd "town hall" debacles, are more about who makes a gaffe or has an "oops moment" than about who brings the better policy to the table.
But before I make my case with regard to the pushing of "gaffes" in one particular direction, let me disarm the same media I will later take to task (of course, you can never really disarm them . . . they have a permanent round of journalistic bullets to fire).
I know conservatives and Republicans are upset over the perceived bias of Tuesday's debate moderator, Candy Crowley. But I really don't blame her for her performance. First, these stupid town hall settings are as unwieldy as the open floor space the candidates are left to roam about like lost cats. And Crowley was left to do the impossible, herding them.
No, she should not have been the "official fact-checker" of the debate. But observers seemed to only hear her validate a few words that Obama actually did say after the attack on diplomats in Libya but chose to ignore Crowley's acknowledgment that the administration took weeks to shake off the myth that our ambassador was killed as part of an overreaction to a movie trailer.
And even the most left-leaning of media sources admitted that President Obama had a terrible first debate. But they had to, or they would have lost the credibility needed to make mountains out of molehills when it came to alleged gaffes by Mitt Romney.
First, it was Big Bird who came to symbolize an alleged Romney "oops" moment. In the first debate, one of the actual examples Romney gave in terms of hard cuts he would make in the federal budget was funding of PBS.
I can understand where the "elite media" saw a gaffe, because in 1995 Newt Gingrich as speaker spoke of cutting funding of PBS and I had a political heart attack. But times were better then, and the tolerance for cutting federally funded entertainment was much lower. Romney tried to soften his position by saying that he loved Big Bird, but basically the bird would have to feather his own nest.
So what happened after the Big Bird comment? The Web filled with Big Bird spoofs, and the folks at "Saturday Night Live" (yes, I watch and laugh regardless of who might be the target) brought Big Bird himself onto the program. To SNL's credit, they also captured Vice President Biden's outrageous reactions in the VP debate perfectly.
But the media that report on this stuff are neither as humorous nor as evenhanded. They proved that the day after the debate, when major news sites began making a huge issue out of Romney's description of how he sought to put more women into government after he was elected as governor in Massachusetts. He said that when he requested help in finding more qualified women, groups brought "whole binders" full of women . . . oh, how horrible.
Suddenly, the media had their next gaffe, and within hours Big Bird was pictured on the Web holding — oh, yes — a binder that said "women" on front of it.
Editorials popped up saying Romney had destroyed the advantage he was gaining among female voters. One news service listed the campaign's major "oops" moments as: Clint Eastwood's speech at the GOP convention, Romney's Big Bird reference and Romney's "binder" comment. Wow, all Republican/Romney gaffes — none by Obama or the Democrats.
Let's be honest. Romney became Gov. Romney when binders were still being used to hold generated lists and other documents. And he filled his administration with bright and capable individuals, both male and female. Those who know his staff then and inner circle now are well aware of this fact.
But suddenly his two "debate" gaffes are merged into an alleged war on children and Big Bird, as well as an attack on women in the workplace. And this is how real media bias works — not in your face, but building on one little comment linked to the next one.
So, here's a homework assignment for the media. President Obama used a term most of us have rarely heard used in a newscast or in a presidential debate, but which might be viewed as pretty racy in other venues. What was it, and why no mention of it by those who jump on words or phrases? He didn't mean it to be crude or offensive, but the media could have had a field day with it.
I guess we will have to wait for "Saturday Night Live" to take it on.
Matt Towery is author of the book "Paranoid Nation: The Real Story of the 2008 Fight for the Presidency." He heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage. Read more reports from Matt Towery — Click Here Now.