How to Spin the Cancelled Brown-Warren Debate

With both candidates agreeing to postpone, political points are hard to score.

In the heat of the storm Monday afternoon, Sen. Scott Brown announced he would not participate in a debate scheduled for Tuesday night because it would be inappropriate during disaster relief efforts. Elizabeth Warren quickly followed up to say she agreed that a debate shouldn’t happen. Neither candidate has yet agreed to a rescheduled date. For pundits, this has proven to be a highly difficult event to spin in favor of one candidate or the other, so perhaps you are confused about how to feel. Luckily, you have us to provide a guide:

Theory: Scott Brown is brave, responsible, and prudent for withdrawing from the debate.

Proponent: Joe Battenfeld writing for (who else?) The Herald. “Scott Brown puts public safety over politics,” Battenfeld says. “Millions were urged to stay in their homes. Schools closed. The stock market shut down. Hundreds of thousands are without power. The presidential candidates even stopped campaigning. But the consortium was still going ahead with the debate before the GOP incumbent wisely pulled the plug.”

Why this spin is awkward: Battenfeld notes that Brown’s opponent, Warren, isn’t criticizing Brown. So he has to set The Globe up as the enemy, complaining about their headline, which declares that Brown “pulled out” of the debate. (This headline was perfectly factual. Apparently Battenfeld would have preferred the headline, “Scott Brown takes leadership by saving Globe-sponsored debate from itself” ) It’s also awkward for Republicans to take up this defense of Brown, Battenfeld himself notes, because it also serves as a defense of President Obama, who has suspended campaigning to focus on disaster relief (and look like a leader.) Battenfeld says neither candidate should get criticism for focusing on the relief effort.

Theory: Scott Brown is an inconsistent weenie who is trying to score political points while avoiding a scarring debate.

Proponent: The Phoenix‘s David Bernstein. He wonders why, if it’s inappropriate to discuss the issues facing the U.S. Senate, Brown’s campaign is still airing campaign ads.  “If you’re so offended by ‘campaigns and politics’ interrupting our concentration on the storm, surely you should pull those ads down — or better, replace them with apolitical public-service announcements about ’emergency response and disaster relief’?”

Why this spin is awkward: Bernstein wrote this immediately after Brown’s campaign announced he wouldn’t participate. When Warren’s campaign agreed, he updated the post to note that all his critiques now go for Warren, too. “Now I think they’re both being ridiculous and hypocritical. The debate doesn’t affect public safety and cleanup any more or less than the ads both sides are airing,” he writes. Warren partisans can’t exactly use this critique to great effect.

Theory: Both candidates have saved the local TV news media!

Proponent: The Herald‘s Jessica Heslam. “Had they come to the conclusion that the showdown must go on, the TV outlets would be grappling today with the dilemma of choosing storm coverage or politics in the throes of an important ratings ‘sweeps’ month,” she writes. “Brown made the decision an easy one when he bailed out of the debate yesterday.”

Why this spin is awkward: Well, the TV stations might be thankful to Brown and Warren, but helping the local news media boost ratings by offering us our 48th hour of footage of waves hitting the Scituate beaches isn’t exactly change we can believe in.


Eric Randall
Eric Randall Eric Randall, Contributor at Boston Magazine ericrandall988@gmail.com


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