An hour after Wednesday night's debate ended, Alex Burns of Politico tweeted, "Folks obsessed with crying media bias should take a good look at debate coverage. Press loves a dogfight more than a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g."
Indeed, by the time of Burns's tweet, the supposedly left-leaning media had officially deemed the debate a complete, utter, thoroughgoing, calamitous, humilitating, and, above all, game changing defeat for Obama. And I agree with Burns's reading of this verdict. In fact, last week I predicted that a "Romney comeback narrative" was coming--that journalists determined to report fresh wind in Romney's sails would find reasons to do so. And I said one reason likely to be found was the first debate.
I'm not saying pundits were imagining Romney's victory over Obama. I wrote in that piece that Romney "on any given night has a chance of outshining Obama" in debate--and that's what happened.
Still, the reason I wrote that was because of something else I wrote in the piece: Obama is actually not a great debater and Romney is actually a good one (as my Atlantic colleague and campaign rhetoric connoisseur James Fallows has also argued). And the fact that the conventional wisdom was otherwise--the fact that Obama was overrated and Romney underrated--naturally worked to Romney's advantage. It meant that, whatever Romney's actual margin of victory, the margin could be magnified by journalists hungry for a new campaign narrative. If expectations for the debate had been set realistically, the media would have had a harder giving us, for example, the headline that Politico itself gave us this morning: "Debate Grand Slam Resets Campaign."