In this regard, Google and Fox, in introducing their brave new world of “realtime feedback” have stacked the deck for tomorrow. Will Google’s instant polling drive the pundits or will the substance of the debate? Will audiences lose sight of what’s actually being said between the Twitter feeds and reaction charting? What sort of sample is really going to be participating in Google’s real-time polling? Whatever the answers, it’s hard to imagine deeper understanding about candidates and their policies will result from this new distraction.

While acknowledging that media is a business and must engage in a contest to attract an audience, Fein thinks they can do better.

“What really concerns me is how much the media plays this as a sporting thing. It really sounds like a horse race or a baseball season. There’s this titillating quality to a lot of the coverage—all the bells and whistles and charts and 3-D things. It just cheapens the whole process and makes the emphasis on very superficial things. It becomes what reader and viewer comes to expect. With a little more substance it can make a bit of a difference, I think the audience is capable of more than more of what the media thinks they are.”

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Erika Fry is a former assistant editor at CJR.