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Catch of the Day: Summary of the Republican Primary Debate, How News Is “Made”

September 8, 2011

If you didn’t watch the entirety of the Republican candidate’s debate last night, you can obviously turn to just about any news outlet for summaries, recaps and whatnot. For instance, here’s MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow with her highlights list.

But notice what recaps like this do. When we edit a longer event down to a few seconds or a few words, we’re prioritizing what we think is important about what happened throughout that timeframe. If you missed the debate, you probably know by now that Rick Perry called Social Security a Ponzi Scheme. But you might not know, for example, that Herman Cain suggested borrowing a retirement plan model from Chile. Or that Herman Cain said much of anything at all, really. Ditto Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum. You might know that Ron Paul said some things, but that’s only because this format is clearly not where he shines and he came off all incoherently anti-government/conspiracy theory like that kid who sat behind you in 10th grade homeroom with the mohawk and the anarchy back patch, or maybe that old guy in “12 Monkeys” without the front teeth. Recaps can only give us a portion of what our good friends Mitt, Michele, Herman, Ron, Jon, Newt, and the Ricks Santorum and Perry had to say.

Point being, events like this and the media coverage afterwards remind us that when things happen, our interpretation is influenced by what snippets we see and hear. And those snippets are selected by the people doing the reporting based on what struck them as important. It’s an oft-bemoaned part of the reporting process, for sure, but isn’t it kind of unavoidable? Isn’t it up to us as consumers of media to realize that we’re receiving edited texts that are inherently (even unconsciously) subject to the interpretations of the editors?

Note: I tried to embed the Rachel Maddow video above, but the embed code that MSNBC gave me kept taking me to something from the Today show where Matt Lauer was talking about Cheeseheads. Stupid MSNBC.

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