A new study by a conservative media watchdog group finds that the big three TV network's morning shows are far more biased against the current GOP presidential field than they were to Democrats running in the 2008 election. What's more, the Republicans challenging President Obama are facing caustic questions and getting less airtime than Democrats did four years ago.
The key points from the Media Research Center's review of 53 weekday morning news interviews from January 1 to September 15:
- By a 5-to-1 margin, ABC, CBS, and NBC morning show hosts employed an adversarial liberal agenda when questioning this year's Republican candidates.
- Four years ago, Democratic candidates faced questions that tilted more than two-to-one to the left, a far friendlier agenda for liberal politicians.
- In 2007, Democratic candidates were frequently tossed softball questions. This year's interviews with Republicans have been much more caustic, with few chances for the candidates to project a warm and fuzzy image.
- Four years ago, top Democrats Hillary Clinton and John Edwards were given massive donations of airtime by ABC in the form of "town hall" meetings on Good Morning America. None of this year's Republican contenders have been given a similar opportunity.
The study is due out tomorrow and was provided in advance to Whispers, It was written by Rich Noyes and Geoff Dickens of the Media Research Center which charts alleged bias of major TV networks. [See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP hopefuls.]
The study was conducted to see if the GOP presidential candidates were getting their fair share of airtime, media attention, and balanced questions. What the two found was something of a double standard when it came to how the network morning shows covered Democrats and Republicans.
On air time, for example, the GOP candidates are behind in total minutes than the 2008 crop of Democrats at this time. Rep. Michele Bachmann leads with 71 minutes followed by Tim Pawlenty at 42 minutes, Donald Trump at 39 minutes, Jon Huntsman at 26 minutes, and Mitt Romney at 21 minutes.
Also, the spouses and top aides of Democratic candidates got lots of airtime and feature stories during the last election. For the same period this election, said the center, "none of the Republican candidates' spouses or surrogates has appeared without the candidate, although Romney's wife, Ann, was included alongside her husband in NBC's May 31 profile, and ABC spoke to both Ron Paul and his son, Senator Rand Paul, on January 5."
When it comes to questions, the group found a huge bias. They counted 98 ideological questions, with 81, or 83 percent, from a liberal policy bent, to the GOP field. "Thus, instead of functioning as a surrogate for the Republican rank-and-file voter who probably won't get a chance to question a candidate, TV journalists used their time with the candidates to push a standard liberal agenda," said the study.
And to compare the last election and this one, 68 percent of the questions to Democrats in the period Jan. 1 to Sept. 15, 2007 had a liberal bent, while just 32 percent had a conservative tilt.
Finally, said the report, "Another difference between the networks' treatment of the Democrats in 2007 and this year's crop of Republican candidates—the tone of the questioning is far more adversarial this year. The Democratic front-runners four years ago were indulged with friendly questions aimed at creating a personal bond with voters."
For example, said the center, "In May 2007, NBC sent Meredith Vieira to New Hampshire to follow Barack Obama around for the day. 'Do you have a weakness on the campaign trail, anything that you have to have with you at all times? Stuffed animal?' (Obama answered that he liked 'a certain brand of green tea.') Vieira kept up the softballs: 'When your head hits the pillow tonight in Iowa, will you fall fast asleep, or will your mind be racing about the next day?...Do you dream of the White House?'"
The GOP candidates this time out haven't seen those kind of softballs. According to the group, "the questioning has been strictly business-like, and occasionally caustic. NBC's Matt Lauer asked Rick Santorum if it was fair to brand him an 'ultraconservative on social issues.' During Mike Huckabee's appearance on Good Morning America in February, George Stephanopoulos painted mainstream Republicans as a engaging in fringe behavior: 'It seems like Republican leaders have the hardest time in the world saying simply and clearly 'President Obama is a Christian and President Obama is a citizen. Get over it.'"
- See photos of the GOP hopefuls on the campaign trail.
- Vote now: Will Obama be a one-term president?
- Read Robert Schlesinger: Can Perry, Bachmann, or Romney Save the Republican Party Brand?
Corrected on 9/22/11: A previous version of this blog post misstated the percentage of liberally-biased questions Democrats received during the 2008 presidential election. It was 68 percent.