Political panelists talk presidential election at debate watch event

Updated: Sept. 27, 2016 at 9:25 p.m.

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Roy Al Khechen.

Hundreds of students packed Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre Monday night to watch Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump debate for the first time.

The event, hosted by the School of Media and Public Affairs, the GW College Democrats and the GW College Republicans, was bookended by discussions with a panel of political experts. The debate viewing was part of a series of events hosted by SMPA leading up to the presidential election called “Decision Time.”

Frank Sesno, the director of SMPA, opened the night asking the audience a series of questions about the presidential campaign and the media’s coverage. He asked the audience who was “pissed off” with the way the media has covered the election. When nearly every audience member’s hand was in the air, Sesno joked that it was “the only unanimous vote.”

Here are some of the best moments from the event:

1. Debate expectations

Before it began, panelists had varying expectations about what the debate would hold.

Ethan Porter, an assistant professor of media and public affairs, said that although the success of Trump’s campaign has been dependent on strong “emotional responses” from the candidate and his supporters, the Republican nominee could use the debate as a chance to highlight his policies.

“Trump might really surprise us with detailed policies,” Porter said. “All he has to do is not say something crazy.”

Allison Coukos, a junior and the director of public relations for the College Republicans, said both candidates could use the debate as an opportunity to improve their public images.

“This is both candidates’ chances to prove their critics wrong,” Coukos said. “For Trump, that means appearing presidential and not being baited into emotional responses, and for Clinton that means proving herself as a sympathetic, kind, trustworthy person.”

Students in the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre applaud the presidential candidates as they watch the debate on screen. Mike Shanahan | Hatchet Photographer
Students in the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre applaud the presidential candidates as they watch the debate on screen. Mike Shanahan | Hatchet Photographer

2. The role of media

Barett Pitner, a journalist who has covered race and politics for publications like the Daily Beast, said election media coverage is frustrating because it has allowed Trump to “set the agenda.”

Because Trump has received media attention, he has been able to frame himself as a winner, Pitner said.

“It’s clearly a narrative that Trump’s people want to put out there,” Pitner said. “He has campaigned as a genius. You know, he’s like the smartest guy. He’s so smart he doesn’t have to have real policies. That’s really what he’s been saying for about a year.”

Lara Brown, the director of the Graduate School of Political Management, said the media’s coverage of the debate will affect who people perceive as the winner.

“Research shows that most people who miss the debate or who are not politically involved still want to be a part of those water cooler conversations,” Brown said.

3. Who won?

The majority of the panelists said they felt that Clinton won the debate.

Porter said Trump should have used the debate to be more likable, but instead “came out the gate yelling at [Clinton].”

“He seemed to have a preparation problem. He didn’t seem aware that there was a split screen the whole time, so the visual was just Trump yelling,” Porter said.

Lande Watson, a junior and the president of the College Democrats, called Clinton the winner, applauding her demeanor throughout the debate, especially during Trump’s outbursts.

“Trump said all the scary things we’ve come to expect, which is good,” Watson said.

All of the panelists commended debate moderator Lester Holt, but Sesno said Holt should have been more specific when fact-checking Trump.

“What I felt Lester needed to do there was find a direct quote and read it out to him in front of everyone to say, ‘You said this, and this is when you said it,’” Sesno said.

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