And Now, Narrative Trutherism

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 23 2012 3:05 PM

And Now, Narrative Trutherism

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- I feel Alec MacGillis's pain. Really, I do. His reporting from swing states and swing races, especially Ohio, has eschewed horse-racing and cliches and produced more scoops than seems fair. But this deeply felt epistle about the "narrative," which blames the media for overrating Romney's first debate, is mightily unconvincing. Here's MacGillis's best evidence.

In the days that followed, the power of our story bore out across the land. Romney surged in the polls, in a post-debate bounce unlike any ever recorded. Never mind that closer inspection suggested that his rise had begun just before the debate, as Obama’s prior bounce abated. As we like to say in private company, this story was too good to check.

The problem: You can't analyze a Romney rise based solely on the topline, horse race number. Romney's campaign argues, and Democrats quietly admit, that the great effect of the debate was a spike in the candidate's sluggish favorable numbers. And they're right. Check the RealClearPolitics average. On October 3, the day of the Denver debate, Romney maintained a net negative favorable number -- 48.2 percent, to 47 percent favorable. One week later, Romney's favorables had risen into the positive zone, and they've only risen since.

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Ask yourself: Were the voters who looked more kindly on Romney being mislead by a "media narrative"? To really prove that, you'd have to know how many voters saw the debate versus how many read the spin. Nearly 70 million people watched the debate, in an election that will probably bring out at least 130 million voters. How many of these people watch Piers Morgan Tonight?

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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