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.

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  • bob

    Here’s my theory: Scott Brown is both 1) trying to capitalize on his incumbency and appear Senatorial and above partisan politics (sort of like Obama, except that a Senator doesn’t really have any executive role to play in emergency or clean-up response, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense if you think about it for more than a second) and 2) concerned that he will have to answer for his recent rounds of very negative attack ads and the embarrassing headlines that have come with them, pointing out that they aren’t really true, that some of the supposedly man-on-the-street interviewees are really partisans that have said some nasty things about Warren, and his suggestion that the Warren interviewees were paid actors, which they did not take kindly and he had to quickly take back.

    I think those negative Brown ads on asbestos and LTV have badly backfired. They seem to mark a turning point in the race, reflected in the polling average moving from a tie to a recent small but consistent Warren lead. I think their negativity and politics-as-usual vibe took enough of the bloom off of the Brown rose for Warren to win.

  • agingcynic

    And if there’s anyone knowledgeable about spin, it’s the paper (OK, magazine) that still thinks that John Tierney in Congress is a good idea. Apparently, Mr. Mindich has a soft spot for victimless crimes.

  • MJ

    I heard Scott Brown talking about “There were already three debates & Elizabeth Warren didn’t show up for a few of them…” WTF is he talking about? Don’t forget, Scott Brown tried to ditch one other debate at the last minute by saying he needed to stay in DC to vote! He is chicken because he knows all of his ads are outright LIES & Warren will call him on it. I can’t WAIT to vote out this reprehensible, lying THUG that is a rotten Senator for MA.

  • Paula

    I am surprised that Brown didn’t put on his National Guard uniform and proclaim “I am a colonel and she is a professor.” That has been a major strategy in the actual debates.