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2012 Debate Coverage: Networks Dish Out Advice To Candidates

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ANDERSON COOPER
CNN

As the clock wound down to Wednesday's presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the networks were awash in bombast, shiny toys and pundits, pundits, pundits.

There was an excitement in the air as anchors geared up to cover the biggest event in the 2012 election so far.

"The preseason is officially over," Rachel Maddow said on MSNBC. "Game on."

Every network hewed closely to its regular formulas. MSNBC brought all of its primetime anchors together. CNN brought out some of its usual gadgets and gimmicks, such as real-time dial reactions from a focus group and an emphasis on the "talk time" that each candidate would have.

PBS got exclusive chat with its own Jim Lehrer, the night's moderator. He and his wife talked about the intense pressure and stress that the job came with. Kate Lehrer said she always felt like Alice in Wonderland whenever her husband started preparing.

There was no shortage of advice for the candidates, and predictions about what might happen.

"Obama has to defend his lousy jobs record," David Gergen said on CNN. "Romney has got to ... actually lay out what his plan is ... he has to hit the president, and he has to get his likability numbers up."

"He's got a double job to do," Gloria Borger added. "He's got to talk to those swing voters who are disaffected ... but then he also has to make sure his base turns out."

"We don't want specifics, we want a vision," CNN's Alex Castellanos chimed in.

"He's going to have to answer questions," Steve Schmidt said on MSNBC. "He has to have a good debate ... he should present himself as a serious person with serious solutions to serious challenges.

"Will Obama go after the other guy?" Chris Matthews wondered. "Knock him out and end this thing?"

Over on Fox News, Bill O'Reilly said that Romney had to go after Obama about foreign policy and "the class warfare situation."

"Let me repeat: he HAS to do that," he added, just for emphasis.

There was also a large dose of the pretzel-like, meta-coverage common in political journalism. CNN's Jim Acosta noted that the Romney camp was playing down reports that he would come armed with zingers.

"Of course, that could just be a head-fake," he said.

Anderson Cooper had perhaps the most philosophical take on things when he mused on the "spin room" -- that chamber filled with journalists and campaign surrogates trying to push the narrative their way.

"I love that they even call it the spin room," he said. "They just admit, everyone's lying ... I don't even know why we're in there."

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