Again, the Times placed on its front page a breezy post-debate column by its TV-beat reporter Alessandra Stanley, smack in the middle of the paper's genuine news stories generated by the debate.
Stanley opened"Rivals Split, With Joe in the Middle" (that would be none other than Joe the Plumber) with askillful sketch of the candidates:
Barack Obama looked like a prosecutor delivering a polished summation in a long civil case, Joe the Plumber v. George W. Bush.
John McCain was closer to a personal injury lawyer, staring into the camera to address "Joe the Plumber" as if he were standing by with an 800 number. ("If you or a loved one has been wronged in an accident ..." or in this case, in an Obama tax bracket.)
But as before, Stanley soon showed her liberal leanings, painting McCain in unflattering terms and dismissing his arguments as weightless:
Mr. McCain spoke vividly, and often personally, even mentioning his adopted daughter from Bangladesh in a terse exchange about abortion. He smiled tightly when Mr. Obama spoke, perhaps under instruction from aides not to be grumpy as he attacked on multiple fronts.
But viewers saw not the happy warrior so much as the harping warrior as Mr. McCain needled Mr. Obama about his relationship with an "old, washed up terrorist," William Ayers, the group Acorn (he said a voter fraud scandal was "destroying the fabric of democracy"), and Hugo Chávez. With viewers obsessing about their shrinking retirement funds and a drop of more than 700 points in the Dow, Mr. McCain yanked the conversation to free trade with Colombia and vouchers in the District of Columbia. "Free Trade with Colombia is something that is a no-brainer," he said scornfully. "But maybe you ought to travel down there and visit them and maybe you could understand it a lot better."