If you think that you have been inundated with Republican candidates yelping at one another on television for the past year, you would be right. So far there have been 17 GOP primary debates aired in a campaign season that has seen only two actual elections take place (Iowa and New Hampshire).
Here’s an interesting statistic that isn’t getting much attention. Of the 16 debates held thus far, the three major cable news networks (Fox, CNN, and MSNBC) carried eleven of them. Of those, the breakdown is five on Fox News, five on CNN, and only one on MSNBC.
|Date||Network||Total Viewers||Adults 25-54|
|Jan. 16||Fox News||5,475,000||1,573,000|
|Dec. 15||Fox News||6,713,000||1,865,000|
|Sept. 22||Fox News||6,107,000||1,701,000|
|Aug. 11||Fox News||5,053,000||1,430,000|
|May 5||Fox News||3,258,000||854,000|
What makes this interesting is that the single MSNBC debate drew more total viewers than four out of the five CNN debates. It beat all of the CNN debates in the key 25-54 year old demographic. In fact, in that demo, MSNBC beat every cable news debate except for one (Fox 12/15), despite its broadcast date back in September, before the campaign had begun in earnest.
With that kind of ratings performance you might think that the Republican Party would be anxious to get their candidates in front of such a large audience of engaged voters. You would be wrong. Republicans are not rushing to put their candidates on MSNBC and there can be only one reason. They are scared.
The GOP knows that they get treated with kid gloves on Fox News. It is their home field, it is staffed by teammates, and the stands are packed with rabid fans. CNN bends over backwards to prove they are not partisan, with the result being that they are partisan to the right. They even co-hosted one of their debates with the Tea Party Express, a disreputable political action committee that raises funds for Republicans, but pays out most of the donations to the PR firm that created it. Plus, the GOP knows that they can bash CNN, to the delight of their fans, and that the network won’t lift a finger in its own defense.
That diffidence was in evidence last night when CNN’s John King opened the debate with a question for Newt Gingrich about his ex-wife’s contention that he had proposed an open marriage. Gingrich was appalled that King would start off on such a sordid subject. Frankly, so was I. It was a boneheaded move that could have only resulted in precisely what happened. Gingrich would assert his outrage, the audience would explode with approval, and King would look like an idiot. What other possible outcome could King and CNN have imagined when they brainstormed that idea? It was, plain and simple, a gift to Gingrich.
During the 2008 presidential election, Democrats deliberately embargoed Fox News due to their blatant bias against them. At that time they were accused of being afraid to face tough questioning from Fox moderators. I’m sure those same critics would now regard the Republican candidates as cowards. And Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, who said that “the candidates that can’t face Fox, can’t face Al Qaeda,” surely feels the same about candidates who can’t face MSNBC.
Last year Republicans were advised to steer clear of the “mainstream” media altogether and restrict their debates to friendly venues. Conservative columnist Hugh Hewitt and Breitbart blogger John Nolte were amongst those who advocated this policy. I wholeheartedly agreed with them. Nothing would be better for Democrats than to have the GOP nominate their presidential banner carrier in a series of love-fests that fail to either vet the candidate nor steel him for battle.
But I also knew that they wouldn’t have the guts to follow through on that. They need the media they pretend to hate. So they will continue to fraternize with those they regard as their enemy, except for one particular foe that they just cannot abide. With the primary season winding down, the GOP may succeed in skirting MSNBC until the general election. But they will not skirt the reputation of cowardice that is evident in their evasion.