The second 2012 presidential debate was a second act for the ages. It had everything from heated confrontations to fact-checking embarrassment to a clammy-handed nervous looking audience. The town-hall style setup at Hoffstra University put the candidates in the middle of a theatre-in-the-round atmosphere for an exciting performance.
President Obama and Governor Romney's verbal sparring was also felt here in London. British television networks like the BBC and Sky News carried the debate airing promptly at 2:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning. When you follow U.S. politics in the states, viewers expect to be constantly informed about the presidential election. It is either the top story or a prominent story in any given newscast on any given network. In London, it was not only interesting to discover that the debate was televised but also how the coverage differed from the U.S.
For example, the BBC simply had one anchor and one reporter having a conversation or a "cross-talk." Katty Kay, BBC's Washington correspondent, reported live from New York putting both Obama and Romney's arguments on display for the viewer to decide who won. She did not pick a winner, she did not take a side, and most importantly she explained exactly what she experienced in the room. The only time her opinion shined through was her commentary on how she thought the debate went for both candidates.
Kay took a debate essentially won by the president and presented it as if it was up for grabs. The facts are always on a journalist's side; however, it all comes down to fact-checking and how you frame them to your audience. She offered praise for both candidates saying that Romney was sharp with his attacks on the president's economic record. For Obama, she said he came out aggressive with a commanding presence.
Throughout the debate Kay's Twitter feed was about as fair and balanced as you can get. "So far both Romney and Obama are arguing with each other more than they are answering the audience's questions," she tweeted.
"This is an effective, simple answer from Obama on Romney's tax maths. Clear and concise," she later posted.
Putting a foreign lens on American politics makes the most sense in terms of getting voters to make their own informed decisions. British networks like the BBC realize its greater concern is Great Britain not the U.S. -- but, who becomes the next commander-in-chief is of importance for the British people -- a strong ally. All the BBC's audience needs to know is what happened at the debate. If they didn't watch it then it's the job of the reporter to watch it for them while contextualizing and clarifying the main points from both sides. The next step is for the audience to conclude who won based on how it was presented to them. Simple concept, right?
That type of format does not translate in the U.S. The big boys like MSNBC, CNN and Fox News have clear agendas and reach a specific type of voter. They are the American belief reinforcers, not bipartisan informers. I knew watching the BBC that before the post-debate recap started it was not going to push a candidate in my direction. This is not to say that you can't follow politics with a critical eye -- you should -- but tunnel vision isn't the way to go either. American news needs to be more about informative storytelling than a collection of opinion-driven facts. Leave the theatre to the debaters and let the facts stand on their own.