Last night’s debate was one for the books. Boasting an average of 84 million viewers across the 13 television channels that were broadcasting it, the Trump-Clinton debate has become the most-watched debate in American history, according to Nielsen. It is estimated that “many millions” also tuned in on livestreams during the debate, making the audience total even higher than the TV count.
What kept so many eyes on the screen? Maybe it was Hillary Clinton advertising her campaign’s live fact-checking during the debate. Or maybe it was when Trump claimed that Hillary “had been fighting ISIS her whole adult life,” when the Islamic State first made headlines relatively recently, and was founded in 1999.
According to Adam Bain, Twitter’s chief operating officer, the “top three” debate moments for the platform were:
Trump used the non-word “braggadocious” (informally meaning “boastful or arrogant”) and Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s account threw a jab, calling him a “braggadocio.”
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) September 27, 2016
2. Chinese Climate Change
Trump said that Hillary was “wrong” when she pointed out his earlier statements saying that climate change was a concept created by the Chinese, but audience members found the 2012 tweet that confirmed Clinton’s claim.
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
3. Sniffin’ About
*a sniff like no one has ever sniffed before, in the history of sniffs, the greatest sniff of all time, believe me, believe me, sniff*
— Trump Sniff 👃 (@TrumpSniff) September 27, 2016
At least I’m not a horrible coughing fit #debatenight
— TrumpSniffles (@TrumpSniffing) September 27, 2016
“This concept around the connected audience is amazing,” Bain told The Drum. “Seeing the moment live was kind of like being in an audience like this… [like being] in a bar last night, watching. There’s a community feeling that exists in real life.”
According to Google Trends, Hillary Clinton was searched more on Google than Donald Trump in all 50 states. While the term “Trump won” was searched 90 percent more than the term “Hillary won,” searches about volunteering for Clinton’s campaign was 120 percent higher than for her rival’s campaign.
The American public was also keen to do their own live fact-checking during the debate:
— GoogleTrends (@GoogleTrends) September 27, 2016
While the audience was tweeting their fact-checks, how were Lester Holt’s follow-ups received? Holt’s role as a moderator was a hotly-debated topic prior to the debate, and his performance resulted in mixed reviews among the media.
Poynter’s James Warren said that while Holt had to wrangle with a difficult debate format, “should he have interrupted a couple of times and asked follow-up questions? For sure. […] Holt could have been a lot worse, and his involvement may become a trivia question faster than we’d imagine.”
Hadas Gold, Politico’s media reporter, described the scene as Holt being on an island, while “letting the battleships of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump shoot their missiles at one another.” Holt is mostly seen as an “understated” newsman, but his “understated approach sometimes led to the candidates, especially Trump, rolling over his questions, with Holt at one point admitting that they were far behind schedule.”
“I think Holt has done an excellent job,” said Frank Sesno, director of The George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs and a former CNN anchor, in an interview with Gold. “Has been firm and fair, called Trump on statements more than Hillary but spent most of his efforts steering the conversation / debate to the two candidates.”
Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan gave Holt’s performance a “solid B-minus.” While Holt “certainly passed the test of not making the debate about himself,” he was “too weak, at times, to keep the debate under control.”
By the time the debate was over, Sullivan said Holt looked “extremely relieved and in need of a stiff drink.” With two more presidential debates to go, perhaps the moderators are not alone in needing a stiff drink.