'Surprise' Palin 'Did Not Embarrass Herself,' Upset She Didn't Answer Ifill's Questions

align="right"Two themes in post-VP debate coverage Thursday night: First, “surprise” that Sarah Palin wasn't a “car wreck” and “did not embarrass herself.” Second, distress that she failed to answer moderator Gwen Ifill's questions.

On NBC, Chuck Todd observed “those that were tuning in looking for some sort of car wreck, probably came away disappointed.” CBS's Katie Couric proposed, without saying in which camp journalists fall, “the headline is Governor Sarah Palin did not embarrass herself or her running mate as some Republicans might have feared and some Democrats might have hoped.” Colleague Bob Schieffer asserted that “I think a lot of people were expecting” Palin “to make some sort of blunder or mistake and she did not do that.” Jeff Greenfield, also on CBS, decided “Palin passed the Tina Fey test. Anyone looking for a deer in the headlights experience didn't get one tonight.” Over on ABC, Diane Sawyer found that Palin, “after a bruising time in the media, showed up not just with confidence, but cheerful confidence that might surprise a lot of people.”

On Palin avoiding questions, CBS's Schieffer “found it a little disconcerting” that “time and again Governor Palin would just choose not to answer the question and launch in to some dissertation, sometimes talking points, and not really address what Gwen Ifill had asked her.” On CNN, reporter/analyst Gloria Borger charged: “I think at the beginning of the debate actually, Sarah Palin's problem was that she wasn't answering questions directly.” NBC anchor Brian Williams scolded: “Looking at some of the e-mail traffic and some of the commentary online tonight, people found it bracing when she said quote, 'I may not answer the questions the way the moderator and you,' Senator Biden, 'want to hear.' Of course, it's the only set of rules in town.”

Video/Audio: Click on frame above for video, compiled by the MRC's Michelle Humphrey, of Katie Couric, Bob Schieffer, Diane Sawyer and Chuck Todd. Matching MP3 audio (55 seconds)

Echoing that breaking-the-rules complaint, on MSNBC Chris Matthews fretted:
“I’m not gonna give the answers the moderator wants to ask for.” What an extraordinary statement! “I’m not gonna play by the rules...”
Later on MSNBC, Andrea Mitchell said “I thought she did a good job of sticking to her game-plan,” but wasn't sure “whether that went over with the voters, the viewers. Because she didn’t answer the questions and in fact she would say, 'I want to talk about taxes,' which hadn’t even come up.”

David Gergen effused on CNN over Biden's performance:
Joe Biden gave the best debate performance of his life. I thought he had superior knowledge, I thought he had superiority on the debate overall, on point, political points it may be a bit of a draw. As debate, I thought he was a superior debater.

On the other end of the spectrum, on NBC Peggy Noonan hailed Palin: “She killed. It was her evening...”

Harder now to ridicule Palin? On FNC, Chris Wallace ended an interview with former Senator Fred Thompson:

It may be harder for Tina Fey to mock her on Saturday Night Live, although, Lord knows, they'll try.

CBS went from all-Obama to pro-Palin, but their instant poll still found a win for the Democrat: After the first presidential debate on Friday night, Byron Pitts checked in from the CBS audience research center in Las Vegas and only featured one participant, a man who was pro-Obama. Thursday night, however, he acknowledged his group of undecided voters leaned to Obama, yet ran two clips, neither pro-Biden. A man criticized Biden and a woman asserted Palin had the “better connection with the American people.”

As for the CBS News/Knowledge Networks poll of “uncommitted voters,” they again picked the Democrat as the winner with 46 percent saying Biden won, 21 percent that Palin won and 33 saw it as a tie. Sharyl Attkisson highlighted how on the opinion of the two candidates, 53 percent thought better of Biden following the debate, 5 percent worse of him; 55 percent better of Palin, 14 percent worse of her. CBSNews.com summary of the survey of about 500 people.

CNN's poll had 51 to 36 percent majority picking Biden as the winner.

My post-first presidential debate summary for NewsBusters.

Lengthier quotes from the post-VP debate coverage on Thursday night, October 2:

On MSNBC, as caught by the MRC's Geoffrey Dickens:

CHRIS MATTHEWS: I’ve never heard anyone seek an office and then ask to have its powers increased on their watch. That’s extraordinary! She wants more legislative power for the Vice President? That requires some more exploration by the press.

The other big news she made tonight was she’s not gonna do many more serious interviews like she did with Katie Couric. She said, “I don’t want to have the filter of the mainstream media.” Wow! Not only did she say, “I’m not gonna do any more interviews,” it seemed, but she was saying, “I’m not gonna listen to Gwen Ifill tonight.” She said, “I’m not gonna give the answers the moderator wants to ask for.” What an extraordinary statement! “I’m not gonna play by the rules, and when I get elected I want more power in the office that it’s had before.” Mmm, not too much humility here.

....

ANDREA MITCHELL: You know I, I agree with you and David [Gregory], in that she came with a game-plan and I thought she did a good job of sticking to her game-plan. What still is to be tested is to whether that sold, whether that went over with the voters, the viewers. Because she didn’t answer the questions and in fact she would say, “I want to talk about taxes,” which hadn’t even come up.

ABC News:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Neither one fed into the stereotypes. Sarah Palin didn't freeze, she didn't make any major mistakes. Joe Biden didn't go on too long, was never boorish or anything. So, they didn't fall into the stereotypes...

DIANE SAWYER: I thought that Governor Palin, after a bruising time in the media, showed up not just with confidence, but cheerful confidence that might surprise a lot of people, talking about her personal issues, and, as we saw, Senator Biden, who had to navigate some tricky terrain, cultural terrain, not only was respectful -- and he said that's the number one thing he wanted to do -- but, as we noticed, at one point, the Governor got the name wrong of the commander in Afghanistan. She said McClellan, it's General David McKiernan, but he didn't correct her.

CBS News:
KATIE COURIC: Well, everyone was waiting to see how the political newcomer would do tonight and perhaps the headline is Governor Sarah Palin did not embarrass herself or her running mate as some Republicans might have feared and some Democrats might have hoped.

....

BOB SCHIEFFER: I think a lot of people were expecting Sarah Palin, who's virtually unknown to most people in this country until Senator McCain put her on the ticket, to make some sort of blunder or mistake and she did not do that. She pretty much held her own. But I must say, I thought Senator Biden had a very good night. He seemed comfortable with the facts. It was clear he has dealt with these issues over the years. I thought he put his experience on display in a very good way. I must say I found it a little disconcerting -- time and again Governor Palin would just choose not to answer the question and launch in to some dissertation, sometimes talking points, and not really address what Gwen Ifill had asked her. But, again, no major mistakes on his part. But I would underline, I think Joe Biden had a very good night tonight.

....

JEFF GREENFIELD: I do think, by the way, that Governor Palin passed the Tina Fey test. Anyone looking for a deer in the headlights experience didn't get one tonight.

CNN:
DAVID GERGEN: Give credit to Sarah Palin. It was the Sarah Palin of the early part of the campaign, not the Sarah Palin who showed up for the Katie Couric interview. She was spirited, she came out well, she came out strong. I think there's every reason for the conservatives to be happy. That said, Joe Biden gave the best debate performance of his life. I thought he had superior knowledge, I thought he had superiority on the debate overall, on point, political points it may be a bit of a draw. As debate, I thought he was a superior debater.

....

GLORIA BORGER: I think at the beginning of the debate actually, Sarah Palin's problem was that she wasn't answering questions directly. When she was asked about what would you cut from your spending plans as a candidate, she didn't answer it. She didn't answer bankruptcy questions, she didn't directly go back to the gay civil rights issue. Whenever that occurred, at least in the first two, she would go back to her comfort zone, which was energy. I think she did improve later on in the debate because Biden was uncharacteristically restrained.

NBC News:
CHUCK TODD: Well, Brian, those that were tuning in looking for some sort of car wreck, probably came away disappointed. You had two performances where neither one of them lived up to their negative stereotypes. Governor Palin proved very adept at being a good debater. She would duck questions she didn't want to answer. She would talk about the issues that she wanted to do. In many ways, she was a better surrogate for her top of the ticket than Joe Biden was for his.

Many times Joe Biden would slip into talking about Joe Biden and talking about the things that he was supporting or believing in. It was almost as if he was the candidate sometimes. I think Biden struggled with how to go at her early on in the debate, but I think about halfway through things clicked in for him pretty well, and he closed strong.

So if Governor Palin started this debate very strongly, I think Joe Biden probably close this strongly. And frankly, you're not going to see much of this debate probably have a big effect on this race.

....

BRIAN WILLIAMS TO GERALDINE FERRARO: Looking at some of the e-mail traffic and some of the commentary online tonight, people found it bracing when she said quote “I may not answer the questions the way the moderator and you,” Senator Biden, “want to hear.” Of course, it's the only set of rules in town.

....

PEGGY NOONAN: She killed. It was her evening. She was the star. She had him at, 'nice to meet you. Hey, can I call you Joe?' It was very interesting to me, for Palin tonight for an hour and a half, I think America saw her for a really long time, and she became a star probably on a new level. Gwen Ifill was not there for Sarah Palin. Joe Biden was not there for Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin was there with a camera. It was classic go over the heads of the media and everybody else, talk straight to the American people. She hit every populist chord....
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