If the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was the politics equivalent of the Super Bowl, then the day after is time for Monday morning quarterbacks to weigh in with analysis.
If only it was as simple as examining the yards gained and points scored. In political news, it depends on who is doing the talking to determine who won, and in the case of this exceptional and unusual election, it’s hard to know if winning the debate even matters.
Over the course of more than 90 minutes Monday night at Hofstra University, there were plenty of topics addressed – and NBC host and moderator Lester Holt became a story himself (see this juxtaposition) as a target for both praise and criticism for his hands-off approach. Trump appeared to make gains by hammering into Clinton on trade and the Middle East, but Clinton was firm, detailed and composed as she fought through interruptions to counterpunch and bait Trump into talking himself into trouble spots repeatedly.
Two more juxtapositions show just how much there was to digest.
First, this juxtaposition starts with a CNN story that isn’t afraid to proclaim that Clinton lived up to being the favorite and doesn’t even mention her opponent in the headline or lede: “Clinton delivers in first debate.”
The Associated Press leads with “Clinton gets under Trump’s skin,” hinting at just how contentious the showdown was.
MSNBC, rather than pronouncing a winner, attacks Trump with its column by Steve Benen, “Debate shows Donald Trump still isn’t ready for prime time.” But the story is also a reaction to the expectations that Trump’s campaign had worked very hard to set for their candidate.
In another juxtaposition, the BBC takes the scientific approach to unraveling all that transpired, treating the debate like the frog in high school biology class. Though the “Debate dissected” headline is bland, the lede shows urgency with “arguably the key event of the U.S. presidential so far,” crucial for setting the stage and luring in its international readership.
USA Today, which has built its model on making its stories read like short television news clips, offers “highlights” from the debate but doesn’t make a compelling argument for true insight into the event.
In stark contrast, Politico goes Hollywood style with its magazine story, whetting the appetites of wonks everywhere with, “The Debate: What We Just Saw,” evoking the tenor of a recap following the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Even for those who saw the debate, the Politico lede is confusing at best, though the debate itself was also unlike most anything seen in a presidential election before.