Fight Club

The most contentious debate = the highest-rated debate. Coincidence?

So it looks like Monday night’s CNN Democratic debate was the most-watched presidential primary debate in cable news history.

Wow. Perhaps that’s proof of citizens’ renewed interest in presidential campaigns. Or perhaps it’s proof of what Newsweek editor Jon Meacham said during his Daily Show appearance on the same evening: that press coverage of the campaign is “not ideologically driven, but conflict-driven” — because conflict-driven coverage is, ultimately, what audiences most want and respond to:

If you look at the covers of Newsweek and Time and you look at the newspapers, check out how many martial imagery, martial images are there - ‘the war over this,’ ‘the battle for that,’ ‘the fight to the …,’ ‘x versus y’ - because conflict is inherently interesting.

Seems to hold water—in this context, at least. According to the Times,

CNN’s moderator, Wolf Blitzer, was exceedingly lenient with the debate’s format on Monday, leading him to lose control of the conversation at some points. His hands-off approach was strategic, Mr. Blitzer said.

“I wanted them to interact and exchange views,” he said Monday night in a telephone interview. “I figured I would be successful if I spoke less and they spoke more.”

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.