Joe Biden either won the debate . . . or was completely incomprehensible. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
Media columnist

Twitter, we are often rightly reminded, is not real life.

But after Thursday night’s debate, it seemed to inch closer to reality than what I was hearing in mainstream media.

Especially when it came to evaluating the performance of former vice president Joe Biden.

For CNN’s Chris Cillizza, Biden was “strong and presidential,” though not flawless. Barack Obama’s veep was particularly good when it mattered, said the cable network analyst: during the first few minutes of the debate, when the audience was the biggest.

Cillizza proclaimed Biden the main winner of the third Democratic debate, a three-hour marathon of mind-numbing bloviation in Houston.

For Mollie O’Reilly, editor at large of Commonweal magazine — well, not so much.

Linking to a transcript of Biden’s incomprehensible answer to a question about reparations for slavery from ABC’s Linsey Davis, O’Reilly tweeted: “Biden fans, please, read this. He can’t do it. Your princess is in another castle.” The Q&A link was to Ashley Feinberg of Slate who called it “one of the top ten hardest things I’ve ever tried to transcribe.”

And, truly, the response belongs in some sort of Bizarre Answer Hall of Fame, drifting from an apparently unintended insult to low-income parents (“they don’t know quite what to do”) to a now-famous mention of record players as parenting tool to, yes, Venezuelan government leadership.

Nor was it just the high-profile tweeters with large followings making this point.

Max Coleman, a PhD student in sociology at Indiana University, tweeted: “When asked what to do about the legacy of slavery, Biden said we should bring social workers into black homes ‘to help them deal with how to raise their children.’ (!) How is this not disqualifying?”

But back in the world of mainstream national media, Biden was looking solid.

Frank Bruni at the New York Times had the highest praise for Elizabeth Warren but thought that Biden’s performance would allow him to move on in good form: “Nothing on Thursday night broke his stride, such as it is.”

And Dan Balz of The Washington Post said Biden had “the kind of evening he needed.”

He “delivered the kind of performance his supporters have been waiting for — combative when needed and in the thick of the action throughout.”

And over at Fox News, pollster and analyst Doug Schoen was effusive: Biden “was the night’s big winner.”

The former vice president “exhibited a much-needed display of strength and preparedness,” Schoen wrote. “He compellingly and convincingly delivered his core message of restoring, protecting and rebuilding the Obama-Biden record.”

Many viewers had moved on by the time Biden did some of his worst blathering.

As one close family member of mine texted, with more than half of the three hours left to go: “Right on cue, 9:20 and I’m checked out from the debate.”

Of course, it’s ridiculous to describe Twitter, in all its ragged glory, as unified. Far from it. And, granted, there was far from complete agreement on Biden’s Big Win even among the highest-profile mainstream sources opining on the biggest platforms:

Nate Silver, the data guru and editor of FiveThirtyEight.com, while calling the whole debate a bit of a letdown, offered this on the former vice president:

“As was the pattern in the previous debate, Biden started out fairly strong and got worse as the night went along, and the evening will probably most be remembered for his rambling answer to a moderator’s question about the legacy of slavery.”

My theory for why Twitter was so much tougher on Biden than the big-time commentators is simple enough. It’s the difference between caring most about who is winning the horse race, and who actually deserves to.

And then there’s this: There’s room for more extremes of opinion there, among the multitudes of hot takes.

The real answer, I suppose, is to have watched the whole debate yourself.

But that’s an onerous assignment: a piece of homework most Americans are quite sensibly not prepared to take on.

And because Biden certainly was not disqualified — or apparently knocked off his front-runner position — he lives to fight another day.

And another. And another. (There are nine more Democratic debates to go.)

There’s plenty of time, in other words, to make your own judgment. Or at least decide whom you want to believe.

For more by Margaret Sullivan visit wapo.st/sullivan