I Should be Allowed to Think (Fuck You, CNN)

Last night I went out to eat at Dogfish Head Brewery with my girlfriend, her roommate, and another friend. Last night, of course, was also the first round of presidential debates. I didn’t get to watch the debates closely live (who scheduled it late on a Friday night, anyhow? I’ve got things to do!) but I figured I could get watch highlights later on. Of course, while at the restaurant, most of the TVs tuned into the debate, so I could glance up every once in awhile and read the closed captioning. We sat down in the bar area, and come 9:00 p.m., the large HD TV closest to our table was turned the CNN HD, so we got to see just how much makeup had been caked into McCain’s face crevasses.

Once the debate started, I noticed a series of circles on either side of the screen, split in half two times, leaving red/blue hemispheres and positive/negative hemispheres. Each circle was labeled with a different political analysts name.

I was horrified. CNN was judging the presidential debate like it was fucking Olympic diving.

It gets worse. At the bottom of the screen was an ever-changing line chart measuring audience reaction. God knows how they were measuring that. Did the network slide the audience into fMRI scanners beforehand? Did CNN count the number of times they say “WoooOOOooOoOOoo!!!” versus “OoooOooOohhh…”? Or in all likelihood, were they given buttons to press when they heard something they liked/hated? Which of these choices is worse? They all sound like psychology experiments to me.

I was disgusted. CNN was trying to quantify something impossible to measure. Worst of all, in doing so, the network was not-so-subliminally telling the audience what to think. I know there have been analysts breaking down debates for as long there have been debates. I don’t mind doing it after the fact. But all these little graphs on the side of the screen are a disgusting distraction. You start to pay attention the analysts’ points and not the meat of what the candidates are saying. As I sat in the restaurant, I even found myself, despite my better judgment, smiling when Obama grabbed a positive point and cringing when McCain got one. I knew the system was stupid, but my competitive nature kicked in nonetheless. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

What ever happened to making up our own goddamn minds? If I agree with candidate A, but candidate B explained his point better, shouldn’t I still agree with candidate A? Why should anyone tell me otherwise? Why should I give a flying fuck what Paul Begala thinks qualifies as a positive or negative score? Clearly, even the analysts were having difficulty discerning what should count as a point, as by the end of the debate some of them had only granted about 5 or 6 positive points, while others granted about 25.

I don’t care if Obama “won” by this stupid, arbitrary standard. The whole measurement system is an appalling insult to our political system and CNN should stop it immediately.

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