In its post-debate coverage of the October 8 presidential debate between President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry, MSNBC presented a panel and analysis that skewed sharply in favor of the Bush-Cheney '04 ticket. The skewed coverage came just three days after MSNBC commentators stood alone in declaring a decisive victory for Vice President Dick Cheney in the October 5 vice presidential debate, while other network and cable news outlets described that debate as a draw.
Fifteen minutes after the debate ended, MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews interviewed Bush-Cheney '04 campaign adviser Tucker Eskew. No Democrat appeared until 14 minutes after the Eskew interview ended, when Hillary Clinton was interviewed at 11:11 p.m.
During Eskew's appearance, he proclaimed the debate an unequivocal Bush victory, saying, among other things: "This is a decisive victory for President Bush. ... The president had the line of the night when he said, 'You can run, but you can't hide.' I think the bust of the night had to be John Kerry's attempt to look the camera in the eye and say, 'My position on Iraq has always been consistent, and oh, by the way, John Edwards and I support tort reform.' Those don't pass the smell test, laugh test."
The network's post-debate Hardball panel featured two Republicans: MSNBC analyst (and former Republican presidential candidate) Pat Buchanan and GOP lawyer and MSNBC contributor Benjamin L. Ginsberg (who provided legal advice to the discredited anti-Kerry group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth). Both guests predicted victory for Bush both before and after the debate.
Before the debate, Buchanan declared: "I'm picking the president of the United States [to win the debate]" and asserted that Kerry "realized everything he's built his life on could go down the tubes if I [Kerry] don't do well." Ginsberg agreed, saying, "I do [think Bush will win]." He stated, "He's [Bush] going to do much, much better tonight than he did last time." After the debate, Buchanan declared Bush had "wiped up the floor with John Kerry." Ginsberg praised Bush for making "Kerry confront the record in the Senate" and echoed the GOP post-debate spin that Kerry looked "haughty," saying, "Kerry will be characterized, I think, in this debate, as haughty."
Matthews -- who after the vice presidential debate had described Cheney as being "on a hunting trip looking for squirrel [Edwards]" -- followed Buchanan's and Ginsberg's commentary with the remark, "Everyone has been very cheerful here in anointing the president the victor here." But neither NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell nor MSNBC political analyst Ron Reagan had done so. After the vice presidential debate, Mitchell had claimed that Cheney "steamroll[ed] over Edwards on foreign policy points" and cheered on Cheney's false debate claim that he had never met Senator John Edwards. Reagan said that a "stature gap" between the vice presidential candidates played to "Cheney's advantage." On October 8, by contrast, both Mitchell and Reagan corrected Matthews's claim that "everyone" on the panel had declared Bush the debate winner.
From the MSNBC panel's post-debate analysis:
BUCHANAN: I think the president was outstanding at times, and he was spectacular at times. He did so much better than he did in Miami [location of the first debate]. It was a different man in the arena. I think, quite candidly, Chris, and maybe I am the only one, he wiped up the floor with John Kerry. ...The president came out like a boxing match where he dropped him in the first round. I never saw Kerry regain his footing. ... I think all these little points about was this fact right, that fact right, that doesn't make any difference to 50 million people. Looking at that debate, it is impossible for me to say anything other than that the president of the United States defeated John Kerry handily. He [Kerry] was boring and repetitive using the same lines as last week. And my guess is you will see after this debate a firming up of the president's numbers and a rise in the president's numbers.
GINSBERG: He [Bush] made John Kerry confront the record in the Senate against the statements he's made in the presidential campaign and showed that the presidential campaign is by and large a series of statements that are in contradiction to John Kerry's Senate record. And so that's going to play out. ... John Kerry will be characterized, I think, in this debate, as haughty, and that sort of going into the president's face, glowering at him, all fits into that impression. ... Kerry must have said a half-dozen times, "I'm fighting for you," I'm fighting for you as a way, I think, to try and connect with the people out there. And it just didn't work. It seemed wooden and sort of aristocratic.
MITCHELL: I think it's too early to call this because they were both so tough. It was, I thought, a great debate because the questioners were good. The questions were tough. ... I'm not ready to award either of them the victor here. I said the debate was good. It was a good strong exchange of views and [debate moderator] Charlie Gibson [of ABC News] did a great job and the questions were excellent, but I'm not sure yet who really won this thing.
MATTHEWS: Nothing about Mrs. Sally McGee or a little human empathy. It was a battle of, I thought, technocrats. ... We know the key to victory is get your topic talked about. If we are thinking about taxes, we all can agree as the amen chorus of the world, Republicans win. Was anyone as surprised as I was at the amount of time Kerry allowed to talk about taxes, over and over again? ... Everyone has been very cheerful here in anointing the president the victor here. ... I think he [Kerry] was pulling all the ammo he could into his pile, but not sure if he shot it with enough command.
REAGAN: Here are two guys in a room with citizens who are going to vote, and they [Bush and Kerry] couldn't connect with them [the citizens] ever. They were talking at them. ... They wanted to go after each other. Let them, for God's sake! Next time, it won't happen this time around, but next time, could you just throw out that stupid 32-page rule book and let these guys have at each other? They're grown-ups.
- 2004 Elections