Networks Respond to MRC Bias Charges: GOP Candidates Are Wallflowers

Associated Press reporter David Bauder wrote a story on the new MRC study on the wide and deep disparity of morning TV news coverage of the presidential candidates in 2007. It's fair and balanced. But for us, obviously, the most entertaining part was hearing the network producers respond to the charges. They said it's all the Republicans' fault for being so shy with interview requests, and declared the Democratic race was so stuffed with historic firsts, it just demands blockbuster coverage:

You've got a former first lady and a black senator fighting for the nomination," said Jim Bell, executive producer of NBC's "Today" show. "That's historic. We're not going to make apologies for covering that."

Stories about the cancer relapse of Democrat John Edwards' wife Elizabeth were also counted in the total. It's unfair to count a personal story like that in a tally that suggests bias, said Jim Murphy, executive producer of ABC's "Good Morning America."

The news executives also said Democratic candidates have been far more willing to appear on their programs than Republicans.

Republican Rudolph Giuliani and potential GOP rival Fred Thompson both have standing invitations to appear on "Today," Bell said. Giuliani has been on once and Thompson has repeatedly refused the network he recently worked for (on the prime-time show "Law & Order"), he said.

"Good Morning America" announced this spring that the three top candidates from each party were invited for hourlong town meetings. Clinton and Edwards have both already appeared, and ABC is trying to work out a date with Obama, Murphy said.

None of the Republicans have committed to a town hall meeting, he said.

"The candidates are responsible for how much time they generally get," Murphy said. "They can get it by agreeing to interviews and agreeing to forums."

In response to these claims, let's offer a few points of rebuttal:

1. Nobody would argue the Hillary vs. Obama (vs. the Edwards Tag Team) fight isn't newsworthy. We didn't ask the networks to apologize for covering that. We objected to their covering the Democrats to a much greater degree, by 52 segments to five in the month of January, for Pete's sake. Ten to one?

2. It's a decent argument to suggest that Elizabeth Edwards interviews about her cancer shouldn't count as campaign coverage. But her interviews are often partially (or even barely) about her illness, and mostly about her husband's campaign, or her husband's squabbles with Ann Coulter. Elizabeth's cancer is a constant undercurrent in their campaign, as in suggesting they know how important universal health care would be -- because of her illness. But it doesn't dominate her interviews when she's been on.

3. It would be fun to push the network brass a little harder on reasons for why Republicans are nervous and shy about responding to interview requests, if that claim is true: might that come from the dramatic difference in tone between coverage of the glorious historic quests of "white hot" Barack and Hillary vs. the crumbling campaigns of Iraq-Stained McCain and Cheating Heart Giuliani?

2008 Presidential ABC CBS NBC Today Good Morning America MRC/NB News
Tim Graham's picture