Pundits from across the political and media spectrum decried how boring the Fox Business debate was last night. Everyone from Frank Rich to Greg Gutfeld to the writers at Five Thirty Eight seemed to lament the lack of fireworks and “gotcha” moments of the type that dominated the circus tent that was the last CNBC debate. The Washington Post’s Chris Cilliza moaned on Twitter, “First half hour has been veeeeeery slow. And allowed the candidates to simply recite talking points.” Politico’s Glenn Thrush tweeted, “Try writing about this debate, just try. It’s like eating ten lbs. of dry toast with a sawdust chaser.” With a simile like that, you could almost picture Thrush sitting in a black-and-white 1930s crime-story noir setting as he tweeted, sweating under a ceiling fan with a dying cigarette hanging from his lips, his fedora tipped back to block out the noise of the rainy city outside.
Journalists’ complaining about the pace of the debates says infinitely more about the state of our web and network news media than it does about the candidates on the stage; it’s a sign of the former’s Daily Show–ification. Remember, the debate reactions on social media today among non-journalists have been mostly positive, both in terms of the candidates and the moderators. There’s an overall sentiment that this debate was one of the more substantive in recent memory and certainly of this silly election season so far. There were no high fives to turn into Vines. There were no quips or arguing back and forth other than on tax and foreign policy. Unlike the Democratic debate, there was no crazy old man shouting about e-mails and all those buttons on remote controls these days. Despite his meltdown on Russia and sexist quip about Carly Fiorina interrupting all the time, even Trump was relatively reserved and well behaved.
In sum, the fourth GOP debate gave SNL, John Oliver, Trevor Noah, and Larry Wilmore very little to work with in terms of lampooning the candidates. They will certainly find something to mock, because that’s what their writers are good at doing. The Politicos, New York Mags, Washington Posts, and Boston Globes of the world aren’t that funny or talented, however (though they certainly think they are) — hence their disappointment with last night’s lack of page-view generating carnival moments.
So if the news media were bored, that’s a good thing. It’s not their job to be entertained. It’s their job to report on what was said. This country has suffered through seven years of “polititainment” as policy. Barack Obama’s sitting down with someone who bathes in cereal or being in a Funny or Die video might make for a lot of YouTube hits, but it doesn’t exactly solve a foreign policy in complete shambles or reassure a restless domestic electorate worried about America’s future.