YouTube Debate Has Legs

Incredibly weak ones

Newspapers and bloggers continue to pick over Monday’s YouTube debate, arguably the most sensational story thus far of the campaign season. Unfortunately, much of this afterlife of the debate has centered on an insubstantial back-and-forth between the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama camps. “For Clinton and Obama, A Debate Point Won’t Die,” reads the Washington Post headline, referring to the dustup over diplomacy sparked by this debate question: Would you meet with the leaders of countries like Syria, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba without preconditions during the first year of your administration?

Obama said yes, he would. Clinton promptly chastised him as “na├»ve” and willing to be used as a propaganda tool by dictators. And just like that, the press had something to inflate into wide headlines for thin stories for the rest of the week. Margaret Carlson wrote at “In fact, Obama is the only candidate who gets under Clinton’s skin, and the aftermath of a mild exchange at the debate shows just how much.” David Brooks called Obama’s answer, “a rookie mistake.”

In The Washington Post, columnist Charles Krauthammer explained why it’s bad to meet with world leaders with no preconditions. “For Barack Obama, it was strike two.”

Blogger Brian Beutler meanwhile managed to put this much-ado-about-nothing into proper perspective: “Conservatives are saying exactly what you’d expect—that Hillary’s correct, and that diplomacy is bad and that nobody will ever support Obama’s idea. Liberals, of course, responded as they always do—by neglecting to evaluate the merits of the two positions and offering instead a maddeningly typical meta-analysis of the argument—one that defaults with 100 percent regularity to the idea that only hawkish ideas seem serious.”

And Greg Sargent over at Talking Points Memo shut the door further, noting that, as the news cycle has become a battleground for the Clinton and Obama campaigns, the other candidates’ answers to this question have been totally neglected. Specifically, “I’m just saying that the fact that Edwards came down on Hillary’s side deserves to be part of the discussion, if only because his view of the matter suggests that perhaps there isn’t as much daylight between Hillary and Obama’s positions as Camp Hillary—and, now, Camp Obama—want us to believe.”

In case there is still any doubt that Clinton’s campaign is getting excellent mileage out of this throwaway story, Politico’s Ben Smith also noticed that Clinton is remarkably well-positioned to rebut Obama’s accusation in the press. Campaign news on CNN today included Obama’s accusation that Clinton is “Bush-Cheney Lite” followed by “Clinton vs. Pentagon.” “This is one of those moments when you get the sense that Clinton’s playing chess while the rest of us play checkers,” he writes.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Adrianne Jeffries is an intern at CJR.