TV Cutting Candidates From Debates: Necessity Or BIAS?
Both ABC News and Fox News are running into a buzz-saw of political anger due to decisions bigwigs are making over limiting the number of candidates that they’ll allow in joint appearances or debates.
But the big raging issue is whether Fox News is taking special pains to cut campaign-contributions-rich Rep. Ron Paul out of the New Hampshire Republican debate when Fox is allowing actor Fred Thompson (who polls lower in New Hampshire) to participate.
At the heart of this issue are two bigger issues:
(1) In a democracy, shouldn’t voters have a chance to choose between different ideas and candidates — including some who may not have double-digit polling numbers or even get a double-digit percentage of the vote? What if a candidate has shown that he has incredibly enthusiastic supporters and a huge campaign bankroll. Does it smack of censorship?
I’m not even close to a Ron Paul fan, but I’m certainly willing to concede that Fox News shouldn’t stack the deck like this.
(2) How DO you set criteria in debates? Should debate and/or candidate group appearances have qualifying conditions that are applied unemotionally to see who gets to use the limited air time?
The candidate this will most impact is Republican Rep. Ron Paul, whose stands fly in the face of standard Republicanism, annoy the “mainstream” (read that “traditional”) Republicans in debates and whose small polling numbers are matched by wildly enthusiastic supporters and a big fat campaign bankroll. The AP:
ABC and Fox News Channel are narrowing the field of presidential candidates invited to debates this weekend just before the New Hampshire primary, in Fox’s case infuriating supporters of Republican Rep. Ron Paul.
The roster of participants for ABC’s back-to-back, prime-time Republican and Democratic debates Saturday in New Hampshire will be determined after results of Thursday’s Iowa caucus become clear.
Fox, meanwhile, has invited five GOP candidates to a forum with Chris Wallace scheduled for its mobile studio in New Hampshire on Sunday. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee received invites, leaving Paul of Texas and Rep. Duncan Hunter of California on the sidelines.
The network said it had limited space in its studio — a souped-up bus — and that it invited candidates who had received double-digit support in recent polls.
In a nationwide poll conducted December 14-20 by The Associated Press and Yahoo, Thompson had the support of 11 percent of GOP voters and Paul was at 3 percent. Paul’s support is at 6 percent in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted in early December.
So if the criteria of double-digit in the polls is used here, Paul would not qualify. BUT:
Paul was tied with Thompson for fifth in New Hampshire in the most recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, each with the support of 4 percent of likely voters. Among all New Hampshire voters, Paul led Thompson 6 percent to 4 percent, but that was within the poll’s margin of error.
Jesse Benton, Paul’s spokesman, said it was a “big mistake” not to include Paul, especially given Paul’s recent success in fundraising. He said the campaign has been trying to reach Fox News to get an explanation for the decision, but its calls had not been returned.
“There very well might be some bias,” Benton said. “Ron brings up some topics that aren’t very popular with Fox News, as in fiscal responsibility and withdrawing from the war in Iraq … that does leave us scratching our heads a little bit about whether it was deliberate. Based on metrics, I don’t see how you can possibly exclude Dr. Paul.”
Some livid Paul supporters are distributing e-mails calling for a boycott of Fox advertisers.
A Fox representative did not immediately return calls for comment about the complaints.
Paul has been invited to a GOP forum that Fox News is sponsoring in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on January 10, Benton said.
So it is a ticklish subject.
But IS Paul being shafted?
Josh Marshall convincingly makes the case that in the case of the upcoming New Hampshire debate HE IS:
Paul’s supporters lay most of their claim to a place in the debate on his mammoth fundraising numbers. To me, the bigger issue is that Paul is consistently outpolling Fred Thompson, who is being allowed into the debate.
He shows a chart, then writes:
Paul’s support (red line — 6.2%) and Thompson’s (blue line — 3.1%) are both pretty anemic. But Paul isn’t that far off from Mike Huckabee (green line — 11.5%). And the key fact is that the excluded Paul is outpolling the included Thompson. So there is simply no objective criteria by which you include Thompson and exclude Paul, who by the way has vastly outraised Thompson.
It was unclear to me until just now whether the real factor here was the NH GOP or Fox News, the sponsor of the debate. But the state party is now calling on Fox not to exclude viable candidates. So, it’s not them. Or if it was, it isn’t now.
So, it’s all about Fox News. Paul’s out because he’s not a Fox News Bush-clone. Say whatever you want about the guy, Fox News shouldn’t be able to silence him because they don’t like his views.
The fact is, there have been few political movements like Paul’s — and Paul’s supporters and even some outside analysts argue that his support may not show up in traditional polls since he’s reportedly getting many first time voters.
In the case of ABC’s debate, Republicans and Democrats who want be on it should meet one of three benchmarks (this is still from AP story):
[Place]first through fourth in Iowa, poll 5 percent or higher in one of the last four major New Hampshire surveys, or poll 5 percent or higher in one of the last four major national surveys.
ABC News anchor Charles Gibson said the criteria were actually quite inclusive. He defended the network taking the initiative in effectively narrowing the field at a point when no actual voters had cast a ballot, except for Iowa caucus-goers.
“You will have had a year’s politicking,” he said. “You will have had, I think by count, about 641 debates. You will have had national polls and state polls and one state’s vote. I think that’s pretty indicative.”
But the question remains: SHOULD funding be a criterion as well? If so, what implications does it have? If not, what implications does THAT have?
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel about this debate. By early January, the extent of Paul’s support will be clear ….big or small.
The New York Times blog notes that Paul isn’t the only one being impacted by the new rules. It’ll also slice out two of the most outspoken voices in the Democratic Party:
The criteria could potentially sideline several of the Democrats, including Senators Christopher J. Dodd and Joseph R. Biden Jr.
David Chalian, the ABC News political director, said that the network was seeking to provide the “best conversation and debate between the candidates who really have a chance to become the nominee.”
According to the Wall Street Journal‘s Washington Wire, Paul’s supporters are launching an organized campaign against Fox:
Republican Rep. Ron Paul and his supporters are targeting the Fox News network today after an Internet discussion spread during the weekend that the cable network wasn’t giving the Texas lawmaker a seat at the table for a New Hampshire forum scheduled two days before the state’s Jan. 8 primary.
The Associated Press reported last Thursday that the New Hampshire Republican Party would be sponsoring a forum at St. Anselm College in Goffstown, N.H., with Fox News host Chris Wallace moderating the discussion.
Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson were the only candidates listed as participants, and so the Paul supporters mobilized.
This morning, Washington Wire received a mass email from an independent Paul supporter calling on his considerable online organization to write to Fox employees and protest the decision. The email listed the addresses of about 60 Fox employees, from press contacts to hosts Bill O’Reilly, Shepard Smith, Neil Cavuto and Brit Hume.
“Has Fox News Excluded Ron Paul From the Pre NH Primary Forum?” the email said, “Fox News cannot just stifle public opinion. debate and impact a primary election by excluding Ron Paul just because they don’t like his message of freedom and liberty,” the email said (typos included). Some of the emails were posted on this Web site, and supporters are asked to “be respectful” in their email missives.
The key questions become:
–What are the criteria?
–Who’s being excluded?
–Is there anyone who is being included who does not meet the criteria?
–Should there be a clamor in the future for special consideration given to candidates who raise X amount of campaign funds?
What if someone just pledges to use his/her millions on a campaign? Should that count or should the criterion be money RAISED from voters?
But, as Marshall notes, Paul’s exclusion from the New Hampshire debate does raise some eyebrows.
Meanwhile, the LA Times blog, in a post that needs to be read in full (it has too many links to include here and is quite detailed) says some things about Paul’s supporters that have been noted by weblog owners:
Understandably, neither side apparently wants to incur the online wrath of Paul’s passionate parishioners, who scour the Internet around the clock and descend like locusts on any opportunity to praise Paul or right perceived wrongs on any website or blog they can find.
…..The mainstream media — or msm — are a particular target of Paul’s vociferous followers, an eclectic mix of libertarians and disaffected Republicans, Democrats and, until now, non-voters. Outspoken to say the least, they disregard stories like (HE GIVES LINKS)…. They believe that major newspapers and broadcast networks have conspired to pay insufficient attention to Dr. Paul, a 72-year-old ob-gyn and 10-term House member, citing his low numbers in polls, which Paulites believe are self-fulfilling frauds designed to cause voters to invest their votes in more traditional candidates with a seemingly more realistic chance of winning.
But no amount of attention seems sufficient for Paulites, who complain when there is no coverage and then complain again about any coverage they do get. Watch the comments section below.
They gather in chatrooms and more than 1,200 meet-up groups across the country to paint signs, write letters, organize marches and protests, support each other and otherwise promote the Ron Paul Revolution, which they believe will arrive when primary voting starts.
Read it in its entirety.
SOME OTHER WEBLOG OPINION:
Given that he’s polling in New Hampshire better than Thompson, almost as well as Giuliani, and not far from Huckabee, all of who were invited, this is very strange. Paul supporters may be paranoid, but, as the saying goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that no one’s out to get you.
If this doesn’t prove that Fox is just a mouthpiece for the GOP establishment, nothing will. They are excluding Ron Paul from the New Hampshire debate but including Fred Thompson, who is polling lower. (And, as we are all aware, Paul has raised a boatload of money from voters.)
Not that we didn’t know that Fox was a simple Republican house organ, but it’s never been more starkly illustrated than this. The Republicans don’t like what Paul is saying and they told their boy Ailes to shut him down. They aren’t even trying to hide it.
I’d much prefer a smaller field for the debate, but at this point, an exclusion gives nothing more than another excuse for conspiracy-mongering among Paul’s supporters. It’s hard to imagine a better one, given the fund-raising success Paul has had in the last few weeks. If Fox and the rest of the broadcasters give it a few more days, they’ll likely have all the data they need to whittle the debates down to three candidates each.
He raised more money than any Repupblican candidate last quarter, indicating he has a lot of support at the grass roots…… At least ABC has decided to wait until after the debate. Properly so. My guess is that FoxNews is more interested in seeing candidates favourable to them on the stage than being Fair & Balanced™. But what else is new?
I get the logic: Thompson’s outpolling Paul nationally by 10 points, but (a) this is, ostensibly, keyed to the New Hampshire primary, which Fred gave up on long ago and where Paul actually leads him in most polls, and (b) if Fred flames out in Iowa he may be out of the race by Sunday, in which case they’ll end up giving his seat to Paul anyway.
On the other hand, it’s not like another lecture on how terrorism is America’s fault is going to propel [Paul] into the lead. I guess it comes down to whether you want a debate that’s useful or a debate where the candidates are represented in proportion to their support. If the former, then why not cut Rudy too? Just make it a two-on-one McCain/Huck vs. Romney death match. Fun for the whole family.
Ron Paul, as we’ve stated often here, is a terrible candidate, and would make a terrible president. His good positions on Iraq and wiretapping are more than counterbalanced by his friendly relationships with racists, his abhorrent positions on abortion rights, and his insane plan to eliminate the federal government.
That said, though, Paul has run a credible campaign. He’s raised a bunch of money, he’s running in the high single digits in New Hampshire, he’s not going to win the presidency, but neither is, say, Fred Thompson. He certainly belongs in any discussion of major GOP candidates.
Good news for those who want to see a debate with substance…
Unfortunately if Fred doesn’t do well he may be out soon also. I won’t scream and throw a hissy fit like the hordes of Paulians tho. There are two dozen candidates running for President, there has to be a dividing line somehow. Requiring double digit poll numbers seem reasonable to me.
Maybe his supporters are correct in this not being fair, but this is how the process works. As much as you flood polls, troll blog comments, and raise money….his support numbers are small. Now, argue small but powerful, yet votes are what count at the end of all this. I don’t want to see Ron Paul run on an independent ticket and steal votes from whatever Republican gets the nod, but if I were to honestly advise…I’d suggest that for him at this point. That is the best chance he has.
I am a political person – I enjoy following the process, and on an occasion here and there, getting involved in it. I too have gotten a bit tired of the marginal candidates getting equal air time (and where the heck did Alan Keyes come from in that last debate??). It’s certainly a fair conclusion that now is the time to deal only with those who stand a fair chance of moving on.
However, like most, I also have the base desire to be entertained. And quite frankly, because neither was never electable, both Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul were an absolute hoot. Unfortunately, they are both now out.
The Paul Bearers will have a legitimate gripe if their guy finishes in the top 5 in Iowa, and if that happens, Fox might even squeeze another chair into the bus. However, it’s up to the Paul Bearers now if they want their guy in future debates. They can’t just wave signs on the street corner anymore – they’ve got to go vote and get their fellow Paulians to join them.