CONTEMPT…. After the initial dust settles on a presidential candidate debate, Phase II begins — the media moves beyond who said what, and starts looking for some overlooked trend to obsess over.

The quintessential example was, of course, Al Gore “sighing” during the first of the three debates in 2000. A few people noticed Gore’s breathing the night of the debate, but a day or two later, it became the story. To a lesser extent, Bush’s bizarre facial features, and the apparent bump under his suit jacket, became fodder for discussion four years ago.

So, what’s the stylistic story from last night? It may be John McCain’s willingness to be … what’s the word I’m looking for … something of a jerk.

As Josh Marshall noted, “McCain’s unwillingness to make eye contact with Obama through the debate seems to be getting picked up by a lot of observers.” It does, indeed. The specific and unusual rules of last night’s debate were intended to generate more interaction between the two candidates. Jim Lehrer seemed intent, at least early on, to get the two to engage each other directly. Obama mostly spoke to the camera last night, but he didn’t hesitate to speak directly to McCain.

McCain, on the other hand, went out of his way, it seemed, to not even look in Obama’s direction. Chris Matthews described this as a sign of “contempt,” which struck me as the right description.

Others noticed the same trend. The Washington Post’s Tom Shales noted, for example, that McCain “seemed determined to avoid even looking at Obama as the debate went on.”

I seriously doubt this takes on the significance of the media’s insane fascination with Gore’s “sighs,” but as the second phase begins, don’t be surprised if we hear more about this.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.