Stephanopoulos Again Declares the Liberal the Debate Winner

Six days after declaring Barack Obama the winner of the first presidential debate, following Thursday's VP debate George Stephanopoulos again decided the liberal Democrat in the debate, this time Joe Biden, was the winner -- but in assigning his “Nightline Report Card” grades he gave both Biden and Sarah Palin the same overall assessments: each got one A, one A-minus and one B. Asked by anchor Terry Moran to name “the winner,” Stephanopoulos argued:
Joe Biden, but boy, was this close. I think that Governor Palin did an awful lot to help herself tonight. There is no question that she beat expectations, that she was fluent, that she showed she could stand up there on the stage. She laid a couple of attacks there against Barack Obama, but going back to my first point on overall strategy, right now, this is a race where if John McCain cannot convince the country that he's going to take it in a different direction from President Bush, he simply cannot win...
The grades from ex-Democratic operative Stephanopoulos. On “Strategy,” an A for Biden and an A-minus for Palin; on “Style,” an A-minus for Biden and an A for Palin; and on “Accuracy,” a B for both.

He explained his “style” grades:

I think she tried the wink to the audience about four or five times over the course of the debate, and I think she really was connecting back with people at home. Joe Biden, a much more of a prosecutorial style, kind of a "just the facts" style. He said that several times over the course of the debate. The good thing for Biden is that the facts, on a lot of the issues the country agrees more with Joe Biden, right now at least, than it does with Sarah Palin.

My September 27 NewsBusters item, “In 'Nightline Report Card' Stephanopoulos Gives Obama the Win,” recounted:
Awarding Barack Obama two grades of A-minus and one B-minus while presenting John McCain with two grades of B-plus and one B-minus, at the end of his "Nightline Report Card" segment on Friday night, ABC's George Stephanopoulos declared Obama the "winner" -- with a big illustrative check mark on screen: "Bottom line, the winner is Barack Obama. He comes into this race where the country wants change. His number one goal was to show that he belonged on that stage. He was a credible commander-in-chief, that he could hold his own on national security. He did that tonight. He gets the win."
Transcript, provided by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth, of the “Nightline Report Card” segment on the Thursday, October 2 Nightline:
TERRY MORAN: And so the vice presidential debate is done. The candidates have spoken. How'd they do in this one-on-one, one chance to face off with each other? Our chief Washington correspondent, George Stephanopoulos, is back to grade tonight's performance in the “Nightline Report Card,” as they hammer away at dismantling the set behind us. George, first, what each candidate wanted to do, what they achieved. Strategy the first subject. What's the grade?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: The most important subject, and the grade is "A" for Joe Biden, "A minus" for Sarah Palin. What was Joe Biden's strategy? It was clearly, he was going to debate John McCain tonight. He was not going to debate Sarah Palin. And he was going to do everything he could to say that John McCain would be a continuation of George W. Bush's presidency. That is the fundamental strategy of the Obama campaign, and Joe Biden hit it in every single answer tonight. He was coherent, he was consistent.

Now, Sarah Palin did quite well also. She showed she could handle the debate questions. She had a strategy to show herself as a Washington outsider who, in her own words, could connect with the heartland and to portray Barack Obama as a liberal, to try to drive a little bit of a wedge between Barack Obama and Joe Biden, particularly on the issue of Iraq. But on the fundamental core strategy of the campaigns, I think Biden gets the edge here because if John McCain cannot convince the country he's taking it in a different direction from President Bush, he cannot win this race. And that's the case that Joe Biden made tonight.
 
MORAN: So a couple of high grades on the strategy. Now, they were a study in contrasts up there. So let's turn to style.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And different grades there. We have an "A minus" for Joe Biden and "A" for Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin had the style points even before the debate began. You noticed that when she walked out and said, "Nice to meet you, Joe. Can I call you 'Joe'?" And then you saw that kind of folksy-

MORAN: She got under his skin a little bit.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it was also just very winning. It was very appealing. And you saw that throughout the debate. I think we have some video here also. I think she tried the wink to the audience about four or five times over the course of the debate, and I think she really was connecting back with people at home. Joe Biden, a much more of a prosecutorial style, kind of a "just the facts" style. He said that several times over the course of the debate. The good thing for Biden is that the facts, on a lot of the issues the country agrees more with Joe Biden, right now at least, than it does with Sarah Palin. And I think over the course of the debate at first he was, as you said, he started out a little bit slow, he started off a little bit prosecutorial, he did get a little more emotional towards the end, connect with the audience a little better at the end. But a slight edge here to Governor Palin.

MORAN: And quickly, George, what did you make of that moment when Joe Biden seemed to be very emotional when talking about his children in the hospital after his wife and daughter were killed.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That was something, he caught himself up over the course of that moment. I think he did see real tears and what must have been going through his mind was the fact that his son Beau is going to be going to Iraq over the weekend. He's going to be sending one of his sons off. There was one other moment on style that I have to pick up on Senator Biden. You notice that, during the debate on Afghanistan, Governor Palin called the commanding general in Afghanistan "General McClellan" twice. Now, Joe Biden knew that the General's name is "General David McKiernan," and you could just see him holding back, but he had been told, and he was determined not to correct her, not to give her that opening. And he did. He just said "commanding general."

MORAN: Interesting. All right. Final subject here. Accuracy: How'd they do?

STEPHANOPOULOS: B's, both got B's. Joe Biden and Sarah Palin both made some misstatements. You know, when Joe Biden said that Barack Obama never said he would meet with the President of Iran, and he was wrong there. When he said that John McCain voted exactly the same way as Barack Obama on a tax vote, he was wrong. Sarah Palin was wrong when she said that Joe Biden has increased, I mean that Barack Obama has voted to increase taxes 94 times, when she said that the government is going to take over health care. So they were about even on this. But these are kind of garden variety political exaggerations and misleading attacks.

MORAN: It's more or less what you expect in a debate. But the bottom line here, who's the winner, George?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Joe Biden, but boy, was this close. I think that Governor Palin did an awful lot to help herself tonight. There is no question that she beat expectations, that she was fluent, that she showed she could stand up there on the stage. She laid a couple of attacks there against Barack Obama, but going back to my first point on overall strategy, right now, this is a race where if John McCain cannot convince the country that he's going to take it in a different direction from President Bush, he simply cannot win. He comes in to this debate tonight, his team comes into this debate tonight, behind. Probably five or six points behind.

In fact, McCain campaign pulled out of the state of Michigan today, so they're basically giving up on the state of Michigan. So, even though Governor Palin may have done something to stop the slide for John McCain, there was no circuit breaker tonight, no big game-changing argument to get the momentum back to John McCain. Only John McCain can do that for himself. The next debate is on Tuesday.

MORAN: And that one, no question about it, is a lot of pressure on John McCain.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center