Tuned In

Have You Stopped Beating Your Koran?

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Felt guilty enough to go back and watch the Democratic Nevada debate on TiVo. Don’t all thank me at once.

Fortunately, in the interim, my new colleague Michael Scherer has gone ahead and critiqued MSNBC’s handling of the debate. The first half-hour of the debate, in which Tim Russert and Brian Williams focused on meta-issues like “piling on” and dug up the race and gender issues faster than Obama and Clinton could bury them, was dispiriting–and seemingly embarrassing for candidates, moderators and audience alike. But worse, it was boring, since it just became an exercise in how well the candidates could repeat their earlier statements that the issue was a nonissue.

But the weirder moment came when Williams asked Obama to address (false) rumors that he is a Muslim who was sworn in on the Koran and refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Wha? Was the debate sponsored by Snopes.com?

Now, strategically, for all I know, may this was a gift to Obama, allowing him to take the charges head-on rather than let them fester. Or maybe it wasn’t. That’s not the point. Debates aren’t about serving, or not serving, the candidates’ strategies. They’re about helping inform voters. Except for some vague connection to the meta-issue of “electability,” who gains anything from having a candidate refute nutjob rumors that the networks’ reporters could (and should) fact-check themselves? Is Hillary going to have to start fielding Vincent Foster questions?

In any case, I can’t wait for the next debate, when I expect someone to ask Mitt Romney whether I can really get $10 million by sending my bank routing information to a Nigerian prince.