BROOKE GLADSTONE: The anguished cries of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews are still reverberating after what most pundits and viewers deemed a lackluster performance by the President in his first debate against Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: I don't know what he was doing out there. He had his head down. He was enduring the debate, rather than fighting it. Romney, on the other hand, came in with a -- campaign. He had a plan. He was gonna to dominate the time, he was gonna be aggressive. He’s gonna push the moderator around, which he did effectively. He was gonna relish the evening, enjoying it, nothing to do with the words he spoke. Here's my question for Obama: I know he likes to say he doesn't watch cable television but maybe he should start.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Most notably, MSNBC, where they know how to debate these issues.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: We got it on tape, what you think of these people! Don't come out here and pretend you care about old people ‘cause you met somebody at some campaign event. You've written off 47 percent of the country before you even started. Where was Obama tonight? He should watch, well not just Hardball, Rachel, he should watch you.
He should watch the Reverend Al, he should watch Lawrence. He would learn something about this debate.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Meanwhile, pundits anxiously, or eagerly, depending on the channel, assessed the impact of the debate on the election, because that’s what pundits do. They prognosticate, like Fox’s Neil Cavuto.
NEIL CAVUTO: This isn’t a matter of, of Mitt Romney potentially winning over undecided voters, but possibly, possibly Barack Obama voters.
MAN: Well, to be honest, I doubt that that will happen, Neil. I, I don’t think that’s it at all. I think we’re having just a matter of -
NEIL CAVUTO: You want me to have another ice cream bet wit you, young man?
MAN: Yeah well, you know, I’m just simply-
NEIL CAVUTO: Okay –
MAN: I was trying to say in a nice way, Neil, you’re completely wrong.
NEIL CAVUTO: Okay, there we go. [LAUGHS]
Now you’re pulling a Mitt Romney on me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Pundits are paid to ruminate, to ponder, to guess! Two months ago, Conservative pundit Dick Morris, who never seems willing to concede that he’s guessing, said this:
DICK MORRIS: I’m quite confident that Romney is clearly gonna carry Florida. I think he’s gonna carry Ohio. And I think he has a very good shot of carrying Pennsylvania.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Then last week, with most polls showing Romney trailing Obama in Pennsylvania, Fox’s Bill O’Reilly brought Morris in to see how he was adjusting to the new data, or not.
[O’REILLY FACTOR CLIP]:
BILL O’REILLY: You’re standing by everything, right?
DICK MORRIS: Yeah. When you average nine inaccurate polls, you get one inaccurate average. There’s a deliberate effort going on in the media to try to discourage Romney people and encourage Obama donors by portraying this race as an Obama walk. But the people that are taking accurate polls, the people I’m in touch with, people who work with me and – and Scott Rasmus and the only pollster that really is doing it correctly – all have this race very different.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Like many pundits, Morris has his story and he’s sticking to it. It’s a living. But the fact is, as you’ll soon hear, most pundits prognosticate with pretty much the reliability of a Magic Eight Ball. Of course, the classic Magic Eight Ball offers more nuance and humility than pundits like Morris. After all, among its 20 possible answers, 5 are noncommittal, as in “Cannot Predict Now” or “Reply Hazy, Try Again.”