Idiocy du jour: CNN's debate EKG

October 6, 2008

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Check this shit out (Fig. 1). McCain and Obama square off on the issues while partisan, color-coded lines tell you how much the candidates rock/suck.

Although I've railed on CNN in the past, I think their election coverage and analysis team on the whole has been top-notch. Even though I want to stab Wolf Blitzer with a screwdriver every time he parrots "the best political team on television," I happen to believe that CNN does in fact have the best and fairest analyst group, and I must also confess that even John King's overly informative Delegate Map (seen in the primaries, and certain to be seen on Nov. 4) is pretty darn cool.

But CNN still has a tendency to get bogged down in their goofy technological gimmicks, and the most recent and flagrant example has got to be that EKG-looking thing during the recent presidential and vice-presidential debates.

This thing is just plain stupid.

If you haven't seen it, the way it works is this: A group of participants is selected and is given a dial that works not unlike the darkness selector on a toaster. During the debate, the participants turn the knobs either toward positive or negative to reflect their feelings based on what they're hearing. Plus for positive (I like what I'm hearing); minus for negative (I don't like what I'm hearing). Got it? The results are tallied in real time and fed to the readout which appears on the screen during the debate, sort of like a live heart monitor for debating acumen.

For the first presidential debate, the dials were distributed between three groups identified as Democrats (blue line), Republicans (red line), and independents (green line). Imagine the shocker that whenever Barack Obama spoke, the red line plummeted and the blue line spiked. And when John McCain spoke, the opposite happened. The green line stayed mostly in the middle.

Now THAT'S what I call useful technology supplying groundbreakingly useful results. The Republicans liked McCain and the Democrats liked Obama! Simply and totally UN-FREAKING-BELIEVABLE.

For Thursday's VP debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, CNN instead broke the groups down into men and women, rather than by political party. This gave for somewhat more useful results, since they could not simply break down along partisan lines like everything, absolutely everything, in this country usually does.

But come on, CNN. This device belongs somewhere in some video game, not on debates for the White House. Besides, if you're going to give everyone a toaster dial, it should at least also have a special red nuclear-option button on it, so that when Wolf Blitzer comes on the screen and starts yammering about the best political team on television, the audience can blow him up.

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9 comments on this post

    It is also remarkably distracting while you are trying to watch the debate as the line keeps catching your eye.

    There's a joke about John McCain's age and the utility of that debate-heart-monitor begging to be made here. But I'm an Arizonan and have some fondness for McCain (though I'm pretty firmly geared Obama at this point) so I'll restrain myself from making it. The gimmicks are why I prefer to stick to CSPAN during the debates. No pundits, no weird EKG-thingies. And before and after the action, you get to watch people milling around. Unfiltered CSPAN wandering!

    Well... I agree that this EKG monitor thingy is dumb, but I applaud CNN for trying to do something new and different. Honestly the discussion is really boring a lot of the time, so I like having something else to pay attention to. But hopefully someone at CNN is noticing that it doesn't really work too well, and they'll try something different in the future. And I agree with Sarah, I like the fly-on-the wall feel of CSPAN too.

    So THAT'S what that monitor was meant for! It really looked like an EKG, and it was indeed distracting. And it looks like a monitor that would work perfectly with the likes of Wii Fit and other such games. The image of a crazed lunatic invading the set and stabbing Wolf Blitzer with a screwdriver is truly priceless. I can only wonder how funny that would look. The best political team on television indeed. If I earned a dime fot every time he said that, I wouldn't worty about the stock market any longer.

    The 'worm' (as we know it here in Australia, anyway) is more effective when they use only undecided voters. As you say, there's not much point in including partisan folks....

    Did you ever see The West Wing? They actually showed the EKG as you call it in use in State the Union speeches and debate episodes. The pundits dissected the results by the millisecond. It would be useful for non-obvious groups like Democrats/Republican and men/women.

    Yep, that thing's definitely a bad idea, mainly because it shapes viewers' reactions in real time. Before we at least had until the end of the debate to analyze responses by our own lights, but now we're subconsciously steered one way or the other immediately. For the last debate, I just switched over to CBS. Nice blog, Jamahl. FYI, I wrote a similar article on the EKG here, though I'm apparently off a little on the dial (for some reason thought it was a button): —Matt—

    I think its an interesting idea but it doesn't really tell me anything useful about what they are saying. Now, if they could somehow make that EKG thing come from thousands or millions of people then that data would be interesting but as it is now, not really.

    Sounds like another device to tell American viewers what they should be thinking (and distracting them fro mthe actual thing going on) instead of just letting them form an opinion for themselves. Assuming of course that most American TV viewers still can do that for themselves...

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