Wednesday night's vice presidential debate was a substantive, issue-driven, coherent political debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and a significant amount of the media discussion about and reaction to the debate focused on a fly.
During the debate at Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City, a fly landed on Pence's head and sat there for about two minutes.
A fly lands on Vice President Pence during #VPDebate. https://t.co/i0O2K6N9Yy— CSPAN (@CSPAN)1602124116.0
And for a time, the fly dominated the debate discussion.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the fly that perched on Mike Pence’s head during the debate. 🤪 https://t.co/PsY2FI12DL— Jon Cooper 🇺🇸 (@Jon Cooper 🇺🇸)1602123806.0
Fly wins the night and probably the most memorable thing that happened.— Chris Hayes (@Chris Hayes)1602123619.0
Forever more this debate will be known as “The Fly Debate “. I feel bad for Pence— Mark Cuban (@Mark Cuban)1602123635.0
“The fly is the October Surprise.” ~@JonLemire— Joe Scarborough (@Joe Scarborough)1602123692.0
the fly has won this debate— John Harwood (@John Harwood)1602123552.0
this fly on his head is distracting me!!!! #VPDebate https://t.co/gd6jfXv3yR— philip lewis (@philip lewis)1602123547.0
Oh my God. He’s so full of crap, a fly has landed on his head. https://t.co/f61K9oIvKa— Ana Navarro-Cárdenas (@Ana Navarro-Cárdenas)1602123621.0
Daily Caller reporter Andrew Kerr called out the media for its triviality.
Nobody gets to complain about civility in politics anymore. We just witnessed the only coherent debate of the pres… https://t.co/zxh9wlikye— Andrew Kerr (@Andrew Kerr)1602126370.0
Aside from the fly, immediate media reaction to the debate focused on the performances of the two vice presidential candidates. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow remarked that the debate reminded her of what politics used to be like, before criticizing the Trump administration.
“It was like a visit to normal politics land,” @maddow says of #vpdebate, "which is fine and to be expected when it… https://t.co/nOT73aalVL— MSNBC (@MSNBC)1602125396.0
Maddow led a panel with MSNBC contributors Nicole Wallace and Joy Reid.
Reid, after mentioning the fly, criticized Pence for interrupting Harris, accusing him of "doing a softer version of what Donald Trump did last week."
"He repeatedly interrupted her, he demanded, well, he also repeatedly interrupted the other woman in the room, which is the moderator who seemed to at some point lose control of him, and he also continually demanded that Kamala Harris answer his questions," Reid said. "She was not there to answer his questions."
After Reid noted how Pence apparently steamrolled the moderator and Harris, which she said will hurt Trump with women, Wallace said his performance was "flaccid and anemic," which she says will hurt Trump with men.
"Vice President Pence appeared flaccid," @NicolleDWallace says of VP Pence's #vpdebate performance. "The only time… https://t.co/cwF2wML5JB— MSNBC (@MSNBC)1602125539.0
Former Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill later joined the MSNBC panel and called Pence "patronizing" and "boring."
"Let me start with Pence. He was patronizing, which drove all the women crazy. And he was boring, which lost most o… https://t.co/eqKLr10Cus— MSNBC (@MSNBC)1602126717.0
Pence was criticized by other commentators for interrupting Harris. According to CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter, CBS anchor Norah O'Donnell claimed that Pence interrupted Harris "twice as often" as Harris interrupted Pence.
>> @NorahODonnell on CBS: "Our team was following it very closely, and the VP Mike Pence interrupted Sen. Kamala Harris twice as often."— Brian Stelter (@Brian Stelter)1602124731.0
MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski complained that Pence overran his time and was not controlled by moderator Susan Page.
Why cant Susan page control this debate. She is getting run over??? Why ..— Mika Brzezinski (@Mika Brzezinski)1602123735.0
MSNBC's Chris Hayes made the interruptions a gender issue.
The gendered dynamics of interruption and the power to interrupt is always so in your face in these settings. My god.— Chris Hayes (@Chris Hayes)1602122521.0
ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos brought sexism into his analysis, accusing Pence of "mansplaining" to Harris.
ABC's George Stephanopoulos: "A lot of people were noticing some mansplaining going on tonight." https://t.co/5FtQlyxL9p— Daily Caller (@Daily Caller)1602125358.0
But two independent reviews of the speaking time reveals that Harris had equal time with Pence, if not more.
Pence and Harris had almost exactly the same amount of speaking time, per @CNN https://t.co/NQn43YRd1k— Andrew Solender (@Andrew Solender)1602126237.0
unofficial speaking times - Pence: 35:22 Harris: 38:48 via @Kjwalsh_news— Rick Klein (@Rick Klein)1602124720.0
Ben Shapiro said that Pence's performance was "effective," which is why commentators assumed he spoke more.
But everybody thought Pence spoke more. Which demonstrates how effective he was. Harris' performance, which will be… https://t.co/7TZOZMhwo0— Ben Shapiro (@Ben Shapiro)1602125252.0
Others said Pence performed well. CBS' Norah O'Donnell said Pence was "masterful."
"You may not agree with anything his administration does, but in terms of his debating style he repeatedly did not answer the question that was posed to him about the record of the Trump administration on a number of issues, he pivoted and used the time to deliver a direct attack against Joe Biden's long record in Washington. And I was stunned because I thought that Kamala Harris, the former prosecutor and skilled debater ... would be able to make sure it was the Trump record that was on defense."
"Many times it seemed like Kamala was on defense," she added.
CBS’s Norah O’Donnell says Vice President Pence’s debate performance was “masterful.” He “used the time to deliver… https://t.co/bTFlnLtLzl— Trump War Room - Text TRUMP to 88022 (@Trump War Room - Text TRUMP to 88022)1602126453.0
ABC News newscaster Linsey Davis said Pence "really held [Harris'] feet to the fire" on the Supreme Court.
ABC News’ Linsey Davis: Vice President @Mike_Pence “really held her feet to the fire,” especially on the Supreme Co… https://t.co/QOlanXCFog— Steve Guest (@Steve Guest)1602126591.0
ABC News contributor Sara Fagen said Pence "did a great job."
ABC News contributor Sara Fagen on Vice President @Mike_Pence: “he did a great job” https://t.co/UnPPEjg7Y6 https://t.co/NY6CKEm9Ds— RNC Research (@RNC Research)1602126716.0
CNN contributor Van Jones said Harris was "run over" and said Pence was "masterful" and "made conservatism seem normal again."
CNN's Van Jones is big mad that Mike Pence "was masterful in normalizing conservative ideas." 😂😂😂😂 #VPDebate https://t.co/6z5LdMB6ve— Curtis Houck (@Curtis Houck)1602126492.0
Harris was criticized for missing opportunities to attack the Trump administration and for dodging some questions.
NBC's Lester Holt and Andrea Mitchell noted Harris "didn't score" on the issue of masks.
On NBC, Lester Holt and Andrea @MitchellReports regretted Harris “left on the table” anti-Trump points, “surprised… https://t.co/iV8ycYPT1O— NewsBusters (@NewsBusters)1602125484.0
CNN's Jake Tapper criticized Harris for dodging a question on packing the Supreme Court.
CNN’s Jake Tapper: Sen. Kamala Harris didn’t answer questions about packing the Supreme Court, “that’s significant,… https://t.co/Sy0r22RVjd— RNC Research (@RNC Research)1602125989.0
Conservatives, for the most part, say Pence won the debate. Progressives say Harris won. But if debates are won on memorability, we should all acknowledge the fly as the true winner.