ABC News and Charles Gibson are no CNN and Anderson Cooper when it comes to skewing the agenda of presidential debates. In the back-to-back Republican followed by Democratic debates from New Hampshire aired between 7 and 11 PM EST Saturday night on ABC, moderator Gibson challenged the presumptions of both sets of candidates with a key talking point being pushed by the other party: He hit Republicans on the lack of national health care and Democrats on the success of the surge in Iraq.
To the six Republicans: “We're the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn't insure all of our citizens. If we can afford a trillion dollar war in Iraq, why can't we afford medical insurance for everybody?”
To the four Democrats: “We started the surge early this year. You all opposed it. But there are real signs it has worked....Are any of you ready to say that the surge has worked? And Senator Clinton, let me start with you, because when General Petraeus was in Washington in September, you said it would take 'a willful suspension of disbelief' to think that the surge could do any good.”
Unlike with the CNN/YouTube debates, ABC and Gibson did not slant the questions and topics raised to advantage Democrats and make Republicans look extreme. (My NewsBusters item on CNN's GOP debate agenda/My MRC CyberAlert look at the Democratic debate agenda pushed by CNN).
Another noteworthy moment: When Scott Spradling, the political reporter for WMUR-TV channel 9 (ABC's affiliate in Manchester), who joined Gibson in the second halves of each debate, channeled 1970s Jimmy Carter economics in suggesting government action to limit profits in order to lower the price of home heating oil:
Senator [Fred] Thompson, Americans are also watching the profits of companies here in America that are making a lot of money as these prices per barrel [of oil] are skyrocketing. They're bothered by it, people in New Hampshire are bothered by this. Aren't you?...Should something not be done?
When Thompson asked what Spradling thought should be done, Gibson interjected to name what Spradling seemed to be pushing Thompson to advocate: “Excess profits tax?” Thompson had to explain supply and demand.
Fun fact: Spradling has the job FNC's Carl Cameron held before moving up to the national cable network.