The question for the press over the next few days is increasingly clear: Will the big story be about Mitt Romney’s debate victory — which, in turn, is almost certainly all about style points and Barack Obama’s flat performance? Or will it be about Romney’s repeated failures to stick to the facts?
The story here is that monolithic information flows can be fairly powerful, albeit limited both by basic partisanship and by those who, for other reasons, have already made up their mind. However, for those who might be still deciding, if everything they hear about the debate is positive for Romney, it certainly could affect their vote.
The most likely alternative story the press could wind up telling is pretty simple: Romney failed to tell the truth last night. That’s the story that the Obama campaign is pushing in their instant ad taken from the debate, which hits Romney on his tax plan; it’s the story that many of the liberal blogs are running with today, probably because that’s what wonky bloggers are apt to do anyway.
Will it be successful? It could. Paul Ryan’s convention speech wound up being covered mainly for its mendacity, and that became the story. It seems that there are at least as many factually challenged comments from Romney’s debate performance as there were in Ryan’s speech, although it may have lacked any screaming-headline lies. But if you want to know more about the short-term effects of the debate, I’d suggest keeping an eye on whether the neutral press starts devoting more time to fact checking Romney’s mendacity than it does to Romney’s presentation and stylistic victory. If it does, any potential large Romney bounce from the debate could well be undercut.