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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 02:05 PM ET, 10/04/2012

BuzzFeed declares a debate winner before halftime

In defiance of Sarah Palin’s prediction, media outlets of all sorts have rushed to declare Mitt Romney, and not Barack Obama, the winner of last night’s presidential debate in Denver. Few such outlets, however, rushed quite the way that BuzzFeed Editor Ben Smith did.

How Mitt Romney Won The First Debate” was the headline of Smith’s explainer, which noted that “Romney’s core success was that he won by not losing.” It also noted, in classic punditspeak, that Romney was “standing on the stage with the president as an equal.”

The writing wasn’t nearly as notable as another element of the piece: Its date stamp, which read “9:42pm EDT.” Meaning that Smith had posted the piece not even halfway through the debate. The event began at 9 p.m. and concluded around 10:30 p.m.

So at what point did Smith put fingers to keyboard? “I started writing around 9:30,” he said via e-mail. Smith made clear in his piece that he was reviewing the “crucial first 40 minutes” of the face-off.

Even so, wasn’t he writing the game story before waiting until halftime? Smith’s response to that criticism:

The idea that there’s something called a “game story” after a debate, or a game, is something that only people at newspapers still think.

Then God bless people at newspapers. If people at newspapers, that is, wait until an event is over before declaring a winner. Smith elaborated:

Both candidates had showed their hands, one candidate’s hand had proved stronger, and Twitter’s virtual spin room had ruled, all by the time I put that up.

Hogwash smells a little better when coated with new-media magic dust.

The web ethos of BuzzFeed has brought much great coverage to this year’s race, including tremendous video wrangling, a native command of all kinds of news platforms and excellent stories, not to mention a large dose of personal hero Zeke Miller. Yet any ethos can yield mindless excess, an example of which is posting the headline “How Mitt Romney Won The First Debate” 40 minutes into a 90-minute debate.

By  |  02:05 PM ET, 10/04/2012

 
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