MSNBC Presidential Debates

On Thursday evening, MSNBC hosted a Presidential debate between the eight Democratic candidates for President. After watching several such debates back during the election season of 2004, I was prepared for another display of the corporate media’s bias and how certain candidates get selected for media exposure and hype before the public even gets a real chance to know who is running for the Presidency and how the candidates stand on the issues.

So far my candidate Congressman Dennis Kucinich has received better treatment from the press this time around. I have seen quite a few interviews with him recently and all of them have been rather good in terms of giving him a chance to talk about policy instead of campaign fund raising and polls. Indeed, many interviewers have even drawn attention to the fact that Kucinich is the only one of the Democratic Presidential candidates who was in office at the time of the illegal invasion of Iraq and had the judgment and political courage to oppose the Iraq War before it started, to vote against it, and to continually fight it.

I was glad to see that tonight’s debate allowed Kucinich to shine better than in the previous campaign cycle. He got to talk several times about two of his strongest points: his consistent opposition to the Iraq War and his plan for Universal Health Care that will eliminate the enormous waste and bureaucracy created by the health care insurance industry by removing them from the equation.

Still, it wasn’t really a fair debate between the candidates and the evening showed some of the biases that you get when the corporate media has the ability to anoint certain candidates and choose who answers what questions and how many.

Being the analytic sort, I decided to perform an experiment and keep track of some data while watching the debates.

Clinton Obama Edwards Richardson Biden Kucinich Dodd Gravel
Questions Given 13 13 12 12 10 9 8 7
Opening Questions Given 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
Vague ‘Political’ Answers 7 6 0 2 0 0 1 0
Dodged Questions 6 4 1 1 2 0 0 1
Great Answers 0 0 5 2 2 7 3 5
Good Answers 0 0 2 1 2 0 2 0
Excessive Stolen Time 1 1 0 2 0 0 0 0

Notice anything interesting?

While several of these statistics are open to debate and are obviously based upon my subjective impressions, the first two rows are objective data about the number of questions given to the candidates by the moderator. Clearly, the two media anointed contenders Clinton and Obama were each given more opportunities to answer questions than the other candidates. The second tier candidates of Edwards and Richardson were given nearly as many questions. The other candidates weren’t given equal time, and these stats fail to show that the question number gap between this third tier and the first two tiers was even larger until the last half hour of the debate by which point local stations were no longer carrying the debate and only viewers on MSNBC got to see some of the questions to third tier candidates that helped pad out their totals. It was also especially obvious that former Senator Mike Gravel was getting no love from the moderator, and his blunt answers to questions probably played a big role in this phenomenon.

I loved how the only “elephant standing in the room” that they could come up with for Kucinich was his consistent opposition to the Iraq war which is actually a strength as it shows how great his judgment was compared to his fellow candidates. It plays especially well now that a majority of the American public has come around to disapproving of the war.

Some particularly annoying points in the debate for me:

  • The moderator gave Senator Clinton a “rebuttal” when the previous speaker didn’t mention her or touch upon her positions in any way. It was simply a free extra question at the cost of the other candidates’ time
  • The moderator rewarded Governor Richardson for not answering a question (and going over his time) by giving him a chance to answer the posed question, resulting in a free question to the governor and stolen question time from the other candidates
  • All the times that Senators Clinton and Obama would ramble on in meaningless political speak that was high and lofty in expressed goals but elusive and vague in plans and action

Thankfully, despite it all, I think Dennis got several excellent opportunities to stand out from the crowd and speak about his stands on the issues.

Of the three candidates actually mentioned in most articles about the race, Edwards actually comes off as decent. But he’s no Kucinich.

Former Senator Mike Grovel was a true revelation! Before these debates, I had no idea who he was, but man I have to say, I loved it every time he got a chance to speak. It was great to see someone passionately call these turkeys out with blunt truth. It was great to see Obama and Clinton taken to task for parroting the Bush line of saying that “all options are on the table”. As anyone who has followed this particular phrase should know, it is a reference to a question directed at the Bush administration about whether or not the US would consider using nuclear bunker missiles on Iran.

Oh well. One debate down. Several more to go. Next week the Republican candidates will grace us with their debate. I’ll be checking in on it to cheer for Congressman Ron Paul.

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