Yes, I said it and I meant it. Fox deserves praise for not following the debate rules and showing both candidates as one spoke. The effect on Bush was devestating, as the New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley (who somehow did not know that Fox provided all of the live video coverage) noted:
When President Bush leaned over his lectern and talked directly into the camera, he had the same firm, squared-off look he brings to a presidential address from the Oval Office.
When the networks (flouting the debate rules) cut to Mr. Bush while Senator John Kerry was speaking, the president had the hunched shoulders and the peevish, defensive look of an incumbent under heavy attack.
The cameras demonstrated that Mr. Bush cannot hear criticism without frowning, blinking and squirming (he even sighed once). They showed that Mr. Kerry can control his anger and stay cool but that he cannot suppress his inner overeager A student, flashing a bleach-white smile and nodding hungrily at each question.
The decision to have the two lecterns be of matching height (50 inches) turned out to work against Mr. Bush. The agreed-upon lectern cut the president mid-chest, and made him look smaller, as if he were in a bunker. He did not extend himself beyond its confines, but instead kept his arms in front of him, barely peeking above the lip of the lectern.
If Mr. Bush looked too testy when his opponent spoke, Mr. Kerry looked a little too engaged. He kept picking up his pen and scribbling notes and smiling to himself, like an overly confident prosecutor in court.
But he moved gracefully. Mr. Bush slouched and stayed coiled tight, but Mr. Kerry seemed at times to be waltzing with his partner, the lectern.
Mr. Bush, who seemed to grow tired as the night wore on, repeatedly used the phrase “hard work” to describe the war in Iraq. Mr. Kerry repeatedly referred to his first-hand experience sending men into battle in Vietnam, and that seemed to unnerve Mr. Bush. The president said he understood that fighting was hard work and added, “I see on the TV screens how hard it is.”
I’m not frivilous enough to believe that the Kerry campaign followed (or even read) my advice regarding the handshake, but Stanley noticed its effect as well:
Face to face, Mr. Kerry told a joke, and clung to Mr. Bush’s hand, perhaps seeking to hold him in close enough to flaunt his greater height. Bush gave a polite laugh, turned away from the handshake, and his body had left while Mr. Kerry was just letting go of his finger tips.