Rob Garver on what to expect from the media coverage of tonight’s debate:

Sadly, this is how it begins: By preemptively declaring the debates to be meaningless political theater, the television news networks are giving themselves permission to cover them not as a battle of ideas but as a spectacle. Ditto in the print media. Writing for The Washington Post on Tuesday, media critic Howard Kurtz derided the debates as “structured parallel press conferences.” (“Not that I want to give up a chance to go to Miami,” he added.) Clearly, if he has already decided that the whole thing is pointless, Kurtz isn’t headed for Florida to assess the candidates’ positions on the issues. He must be looking for something else. Here’s a guess: Cafferty, Kurtz, and company will be watching Thursday night’s exchange hoping that John Kerry displays some annoying personality tic or that George W. Bush makes one of his more egregious malapropisms, either of which they will replay as a laugh line for the next five weeks, all the while bemoaning the lack of substance in the candidates’ discussion. This, of course, is exactly what the mainstream media did in 2000, when it supplied exhaustive coverage of Al Gore’s sighs and his tone of voice, hammering trivial points home so thoroughly that viewers who originally thought Gore had won the debates began to accept the media’s alternate verdict of disaster for the vice president.

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