Watching network morning show anchors interview the Democratic presidential candidates often makes you wonder if you've seen tougher interviews on overnight acne-care infomercials. Their questions are often so simple and promotional that you wish they'd just go ahead and wear their "Hillary!" or "Obama '08" buttons on the set.
There is no pretense of political balance. They are actively rooting for a Democratic victory next year, and they have the power to make a real difference. Notwithstanding their overall loss of audience in the last decade, ABC, CBS and NBC morning shows draw nine times the audience of their cable-news competitors and are geared toward the mostly apolitical mainstream, which makes them an important free-media showcase for presidential hopefuls. A new study shows that if this year's campaign coverage on the TV morning shows were a primary election, the Democrats would win in a landslide of attention and hyperbole.
Rich Noyes of the Media Research Center assessed all morning-show coverage on the Big Three from Jan. 1 through July 31. In those 517 campaign segments, the networks offered nearly twice as many segments to Democrats as Republicans, a margin of 284 to 152. (Another 66 stories focused on both parties.) When the sample is narrowed down just to interviews with the candidates or their spouses and staffers, the morning shows gave out nearly three times as much free airtime to Democrats (4 hours, 35 minutes) as they gave to Republicans (1 hour and 44 minutes).
ABC's "Good Morning America" was the worst, with 119 segments on the Democrats to just 51 for the Republicans. And try this for impartiality, ABC-style: The network offered sprawling, positive "town hall" segments to only two presidential candidates so far this year: 38 minutes for John Edwards and 26 minutes for Hillary Clinton.
Hillary's ABC town meeting was especially scripted, a platform so supportive that a former member of her 1993 health-care nationalization task force just happened to take the microphone to read to her a long softball question about whether she would boldly try, try again to blaze a trail to rescue the uninsured.
Anchor Robin Roberts allowed Clinton to carry on (and on) uninterrupted for almost 18 of her 26 minutes with "the people." During some of these long soliloquies, the former first lady urged viewers to look up her campaign Website. ABC somehow failed to put a toll-free 800 number for Hillary's campaign on screen to develop the full infomercial effect.