First, it should be noted what a great job Joe Biden did last night. I wanted him to attack a lot more and eviscerate Sarah Palin. He didn't go with my strategy and he wound up looking fantastic. If it was a surprise that Sarah Palin didn't lose the debate, it was an even bigger surprise to me that Joe Biden won it.
Not that I didn't think Biden had it in him or wouldn't be effective in a debate. It's just that he looked so overwhelmingly competent that it changed my mind about his strategy. He single-handedly accomplished the Obama-Biden campaign goal of setting the American voters' minds at ease. These guys are going to take us in the right direction. The country is safe in their hands.
In this sense, Sarah Palin's competence, or lack thereof, became irrelevant. She was shadow boxing with herself trying to stay on her feet as Biden was telling the American people why it was okay to vote for his ticket. She was in the wrong game.
But as an aside, it is instructive to see how she stayed on her feet. Here is a woman who through her other interviews clearly demonstrated that she has absolutely no grasp of the issues. That didn't magically change over night. No, what changed were the questions.
I hate to say this because Gwen Ifill seems like such a wonderful and competent woman. I want to root for her. But it has to be said. She was awful. In fact, one our viewers nicknamed her Gwen Awful. At the time, I thought that was way too harsh, but now reflecting back on it, she really didn't do the job.
Why? Because all she did was pose simple questions that were easily deflected with prepared talking points. That's not a debate; that's a boring, fairly useless, series of mini-speeches. If you don't probe beyond the initial non-answer, you are simply not doing your job. That's a disservice to the American people who came to find out if these people know what they're talking about and what their real plans for the country are.
Here is where Katie Couric comes into the picture. Her interviews with Sarah Palin were excellent for one simple reason - follow-ups. She did what, unfortunately, so little journalists do these days - she asked pertinent, revealing (yet polite) follow-up questions. This allowed us to see behind the veneer of Sarah Palin and realize it was backed up by absolutely nothing. Real journalism led to real facts we would not have otherwise seen.
Imagine if Couric had not done those interviews - or had not asked those tough follow-up questions - and all we had seen were Gwen Ifill's standard queries from Thursday night, we might never have known how very little Sarah Palin really knows. And that's relevant. It's important for the voters to understand how much or how little these candidates actually know. They are applying for the most important job in the world.
Of course, this shouldn't be directed at only one candidate. Every candidate should have to answer tough but fair follow-up questions in all of their interviews and all of the debates. Without it, all we have is an opportunity for a politician to drone on without ever being challenged on their position. Ifill did not find that balance on Thursday night. And thereby, inadvertently, showed us how good and how important Katie Couric's interviews with Sarah Palin really were.
So, if there was any clear cut winner from last night's debate, it was Katie Couric.
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