Who Decides the Winner?
Most of the post-debate headlines mention Palin by name, and the accompanying articles say that she did much better than expected. I won't disagree with that, although she rarely left her talking points, and, more importantly, decided not to answer certain questions at all. Instead she returned to familiar rehearsed lines that highlighted her perceived strengths. (I could guess in a few instances when her notes ran out because she suddenly became awkward and her speech was more halted, although we never saw anything near the disaster of the Kouric interviews.) The moderator did not press her on any of these missed questions, so perhaps the McCain camp "working the refs" pre-debate paid off.
Palin's expectations were so low all she had to do was not accidentally endorse Obama to be considered a success. Republicans seemed to love her "folksiness," punctuated with "gonna," "bless their little hearts" (referring to oil company executives!), and "you betcha." It's interesting to note that the Republican spin doctors loved this because it brought her "closer to middle America," even though they don't speak like this themselves on camera. I think they really have no idea how "middle America" sounds and were pleased because that's how they think we all talk. Dagnabbit that's not true!
Anyway, I'm struck by the media reporting after both debates so far. According to most media outlets, the both debates were "ties." Interestingly, Palin "won by default" according to some reporters since she was able to not make a fool of herself, but last week Obama was not awarded a similar victory by default even though he stayed toe-to-toe with McCain on what was supposedly McCain's strongest area. Perhaps more interestingly is how the media decided that the debates were draws at all when their own polling showed the American public thought Obama won the first debate and Biden won the VP debate. Here's an example as pointed out by Media Matters.
The majority of people polled did feel that Palin performed better than they expected, but those same people overwhelmingly still said Biden won, according to CBS and CNN polls. Several national polls showed that the public felt Obama won the first debate, too. So does the media know better than us, and that's why their experts are calling them both draws? Shouldn't the headlines at least be "Palin Does Better than Expected, Biden Still Judged Winner"?
Update 10/3: Most of the articles I've read understate Palin's verbal slip-ups in the debate, but in some places she clearly had problems. While she didn't come anywhere near the trip-ups she had in the Couric interviews, she had (and has had all along) trouble formulating sentences on complex topics that haven't been written down for her and rehearsed.
So far I most closely agree with Politico's recap of the debate. It mentions some of those slip-ups and doesn't pretend that Palin "won" by simply not shooting herself in the foot.