Top Candidates Receive More Debate Talk Time

According to last night's debate clock, CNN has some explaining to do. Obama, who received 16:00 minutes of talk time, "won" the debate in an important quantitative measure: he received the most free media time. Also, combined, Clinton, Obama, Edwards and Richardson, the top four candidates in both national and early state polls, received 52:56 of talk time. That is far more allotted time than the combined 31:05 total of Biden, Dodd, Gravel and Kucnich. In a little more detail, one can even see four tiers of talk time:
  • Tier One: Obama (16:00), Clinton (14::26)
  • Tier Two: Edwards (11:42), Richardson (10:48)
  • Tier Three: Kucinich (9:02), Biden (7:58), Dodd (7:28)
  • Tier Four: Gravel (5:37)
These tiers closely resemble the actual state of the campaign, which raises a question: did CNN proportionally dole out time to candidates based on the current campaign standings? That question immediately leads to another question: in a crowded primary field, is it wrong to distribute time to candidates based on the current campaign standings? On the one hand, it can be argued that doing so will only serve to reinforce the current campaign standings, and debates are supposed to give equal exposure to all candidates. On the other hand, many commenters, including myself, have expressed a desire to see only the top four candidates or so on a stage together at some point (five of them should be free the night of the Fox News debate). Instead of holding exclusionary debates, perhaps a better solution is to have everyone on the stage at once, but to allot the frontrunners more time. After all, candidates like Obama and Clinton are running far more expansive campaigns than someone like Gravel, who seems to have done little except declare that he is running for President and then show up at candidate forums.

No matter what their justification might actually be, and no mater how reasonable it may or may not seem, CNN should at least offer an explanation for why the candidates in the top two tiers received noticeably more talk time during their debate. These numbers can't be explained away be mere randomness.

Tags: Democrats, Media, President 2008 (all tags)



Hopefully most people

watched the first half more formal Debate which Edwards clearly won and had 90% of his speaking time.

(at the intermission people like Dodd complained and than Edwards got almost no time in the second half).

I would hope people like Dodd and Richardson would eventually drop out because they have no reason for their candidacies that are not already represented.

Richardson knocked himself out of the upper 2nd tier.

by TarHeel 2007-06-04 06:58AM | 0 recs
It's what you do with that time that matters.

Edwards made the best use of his time to draw positive distinctions between himself and others on multiple issues.

Obama talked circuitously around issues and restated GOP frames about not "playing politics" with war funding.

Clinton tried to excuse her lack of leadership by blurring distinctions -- "We're all better than the Republicans, etc." No surprise there.

by MeanBoneII 2007-06-04 07:07AM | 0 recs
No surprise with your comment either

"It's all exactly what I would expect" from an Edwards supporter. Not wrong, not right. Just biased and quite arrogant.

by Populism2008 2007-06-04 07:11AM | 0 recs
Re: It's what you do with that time that matters.

Obama made the case that Edwards failed to show leadership four and a half years ago when he voted for the AUMF.

Obama also stated that playing political games with a war that is a serious, complicated and difficult might not be the best way to restabilize Iraq.

I don't see how using the war against Democrats, by Democrats is that much different than what the Republicans are doing.

Instead, people want to hear realisism, confidence, strength and how that will put an end to the chaos in the middle east.

IMHO Edwards, pointing sharp sticks at the other candidates backfired.

by missliberties 2007-06-04 07:15AM | 0 recs
That reveals so much about Obama.

Obama keeps talking about how a serious showdown between Congress and Bush over Iraq is "playing political games" with the war and our troops, which is exactly how the Republicans want it to be framed.

Obama appears to be much more interested in running on the war than in using his office and his megaphone to bring it to an end as soon as possible.

And Hillary ... well, she was never wrong in the first place, according to her. Which is a lot like what we have in the White House now, isn't it.

by MeanBoneII 2007-06-04 07:25AM | 0 recs
What the Republicans want

is the Democrats to fight among themselves and dilute the war effort. The political gameplayer Obama was talking about was Edwards.  We all know the truth about the recent refunding so if Edwards and his supporters are so into honesty let's try a little.  There was no "vote", there was a deal struck and presented as a fait d'accomplie. We all know that; it is the reason it was first presented by the newsmedia as what was about to happen, not as a movement which could be stopped.  Everyone knew that, Edwards included.  

Edwards talks about leadership, well exactly who did he lead? Did his comments sway a single vote?  While Obama was actually trying to accomplish something with the 16 votes pressure, Edwards floated criticism without direction toward achieving anything.  Leadership involves movement toward a goal, not just "speaking out".  It was clear when we first heard about this that there would be criticism and pressure from within the Party by the people, a much more forceful influence within the Party than someone running for President.  Sometimes being a politician means knowing when a fight is over and immediately moving on to the next battle, reserving you political capital for that one. Obama has quietly moved on to the next vote in September and let the people exert the pressure.  Do you really think Edwards increased his power of persuasion with guys like Harry Reid who was behind the capitulation, or has he Kucinichized himself into gadfly status?

by dougdilg 2007-06-04 07:47AM | 0 recs
Re: What the Republicans want

Obama has quietly moved on to the next vote in September and let the people exert the pressure.

How many people die between now and September?Yeah, now is an excellent time to be quiet.

...or has he Kucinichized himself into gadfly status?

No, actually he is the frontrunner in Iowa and a top tier candidate.
As for his supposed "leadership", you are correct - no one in Congress is going to let a candidate without political office call the shots. So he did all that he could - he postured. He was able to be the outspoken candidate because he didn't have to cast any votes, and he used this to his advantage.
A candidate trying to gain a rhetorical advantage!? Egad - what has the world come to??

by LandStander 2007-06-04 07:56AM | 0 recs
Re: What the Republicans want

To throw it back at you, how many people die while Edwards is in pursuit of a rhetorical advantage?  Obama wasn't being quiet, he was concentrating on gaining the 16 votes needed to overturn the veto of the bill strikingly similar to the one he had introduced to start ending the war.  That's what we all should be focussed on.  This is coming up in September again. Now that Edwards has insulted Biden and tried to embarass Obama & Clinton, has he said a word about September?  

by dougdilg 2007-06-04 08:03AM | 0 recs
Obama has a media megaphone...

...and he could have used it to build support and pressure for refusing to give Bush another blank check. Instead, well we all know the kind of framing he chose to use.

I have no doubt that in September, Edwards will still be using his media megaphone to demand that Congress use its power of the purse to end this occupation.

Are we more interested in running on this war, or in ending it?

by MeanBoneII 2007-06-04 08:22AM | 0 recs
Re: What the Republicans want

Ok, so my "how many people die" line was a little over the top. But the point remains - Edwards does what he can as a high-profile candidate, and Obama does what he does as a candidate and Senator. I don't see what more Edwards could be doing, but Obama could be more outspoken if he wanted to be.

by LandStander 2007-06-04 08:34AM | 0 recs
Re: What the Republicans want

Obama didn't even get 16 Democrats to vote with him.  How can he get 16 Repubs?  While on the road fundraising?  Kudos for his success in that, but he is in no way leading on getting us out of the war.  The one who has been doing that in the senate is Feingold and Obama voted against him last year.  Dodd chose to support Feingold instead of coming up with another pointless plan in the senate.  Leadership is choosing the resources that are at hand and determining how you can effect outcomes.  Edwards has shifted the debate amongst Democrats.  Obama can only say - see I was right 4 1/2 years ago, not lately, but don't pay attention to that.

To use your question, how many have died while Obama voted with the Republicans.

by pioneer111 2007-06-04 08:36AM | 0 recs
To answer your question...

...Edwards' pressure was obviously why Obama reversed his previous votes in favor of funding the war and quietly (shhh) voted against funding this time. And then Hillary slinked in 10 minutes later and cast the same vote -- blur those distinctions.

Running for president provides media coverage and an opportunity to speak out and sway public opinion. Edwards used his to push for an end to this war. Obama used his to reinforce Republican talking points about "playing chicken" and "playing political games" with the troops. Hillary ... she's busy counting poll numbers and deciding whether to give up on Iowa.

by MeanBoneII 2007-06-04 07:57AM | 0 recs
Re: What the Republicans want

is for people to think like you do.  There is so much wrong with your statement that I am breathless.

Sometimes being a politician means knowing when a fight is over

Yes, that's a politician alright; knowing when the fight is over before it starts.  But a leader knows how to actually fight.  We need a fighter and not calculator.  We need a warrior not somebody that doesn't like confrontation.  We need someone who leads the charge not waits for an opportunity to stab you in the back or poke a finger in your eye.
Chris Dodd challenged Harry Reid for the Majority Leader position and we'd be in a lot better shape right now with him in charge instead of Republican lite talkers.  

In a different time, Obama with skills of organization might be what we need.  But these are urgent times and calls for tough swift kicks to the groin not quiet moves while people die.


by Feral Cat 2007-06-05 09:13AM | 0 recs
Re: That reveals so much about Obama.

I think you are being somewhat unrealistic.

Which is a stereotype that the democratic party needs to avoid.

by missliberties 2007-06-04 09:21AM | 0 recs
Re: It's what you do with that time that matters.

I wish I could have been Edwards for one moment when Obama made that comment about leadership.  I would have replied, "Better later than never" meaning we wouldn't have known how Obama would have responded in 2002 and failing to take leadership now.  

by benny06 2007-06-04 11:35AM | 0 recs
Re: Top Candidates Receive More Debate Talk Time

Realistically, I am glad the top tier got the most time.

So I think given the number of candidates and the likelihood that Mike Gravel, and Dennis K. have zero chance of winning, it was a fair.

by missliberties 2007-06-04 07:08AM | 0 recs
Re: Top Candidates Receive More Debate Talk Time

What's worth pointing out is that even though Kucinich, Gravel, et al., got less debate time than the others, their time was not at all in proportion to their polling popularity. Gravel spoke a lot in the last debate, but he still doesn't poll above 1%. Yet he got about a third as much time as Obama. That sounds like a favor to Gravel, not Obama.

by sxp151 2007-06-04 11:22AM | 0 recs
Re: Top Candidates Receive More Debate Talk Time

the sad part about the debate clock and the media bias towards the frontrunners is that on the off chance a mainstream voter tuned into this debate not knowing as much about the campaign/candidates as most of us political junkies do, they could miss out on some of the other candidates. no one wants to listen to mike gravel so i suggest he not be invited to future debates. but dodd says A LOT of good things and, partly because he is the only good presidential candidate we have ever had from  CT (see: joe lieberman), i think he deserves some attention.

by scanman1722 2007-06-04 07:08AM | 0 recs
They did the right thing

But I think that Obama, Clinton and Edwards should have equal speaking time since they are all serious contenders unlike the others.

The debate was "won" by these three plus Dodd who was impressive considering how little time he got. Anyone saying that either E, O or H won is just spinning for their favorite and has no distance to their own biases.

by Populism2008 2007-06-04 07:09AM | 0 recs
Re: They did the right thing

you suggest equal time to only the main three candidates and in the next sentance suggest that dodd "won" the debate along with the other three. how do you justify cutting him and the other tiers (excluding gravel) off then?

by scanman1722 2007-06-04 07:18AM | 0 recs
in some cases

It seemed to me that Obama (for example) got time because he was criticized by name.  This is obviously a process that would naturally add time to the frontrunners.  On the other hand, this does not explain the full disparity.

I tend to think it is good anyway.  Do we need to hear more Gravel and Kucinich?  


by John DE 2007-06-04 07:24AM | 0 recs
Re: in some cases

Agreed -  there was clearly an "insiders" discussion early on regarding Iraq, and later health care, that had the top three responding to each other quite a bit. This expanded their share of the debate - though it was clearly tilted in their favor anyway.

I think Dodd and Biden should get more time, and Richardson too, I suppose. But I feel like Kucinich is old news and Gravel is simply not serious.

And what about seating? HRC and Obama right in the middle? That seemed unnecessary.

by LandStander 2007-06-04 07:32AM | 0 recs
Re: Top Candidates Receive More Debate Talk Time

I'm wondering if perhaps the blogosphere should host a debate on the same night as Faux News hosts their "debate."  That is, gather some prominent Democratic bloggers, call the candidates, and call C-Span.  Who knows?  It could work.

by nanoboy 2007-06-04 07:26AM | 0 recs
Re: Top Candidates Receive More Debate Talk Time

I don't have a problem with the forums deciding to give more time to the front runners in lieu of excluding candidates who are not polling well but you have to make that explicit in advance of the debate - not make a programming decision based on what will make the best TV show. Then it becomes Reality Television, not a fair political debate.

Publish the rules up front.

by joejoejoe 2007-06-04 07:33AM | 0 recs
Re: Top Candidates Receive More Debate Talk Time

Technique plays a role. From the very first minute when Blitzer announce that they had no timers or bells and would use the "honor system" the game was on.

Blitzer tried to cut people off. The compliant lost time.

Blitzer also recognized candidates who were indicating to him a desire fro rebuttal while others were talking. The first ones to take advantage of that built up a big edge.

That said, Hillary was really favored directly by Blitzer's directing questions to her.

I have a number of criticisms of Wolf's moderating at 4/04129/13951

by demondeac 2007-06-04 07:51AM | 0 recs
Re: Top Candidates Receive More Debate Talk Time

All the candidates in a debate should receive exactly the same amount of time (+/- 10%).  If the debate host doesn't want some of the candidates on the stage, it should find an objective means to exclude them.

That being said, excluding any qualified candidate based on poll standings this early in the race would be ridiculous.  The early debates should be meant to help voters make up their minds, not limit the field based on who is already well known nationally.

by Lex 2007-06-04 07:52AM | 0 recs
Re: Top Candidates Receive More Debate Talk Time

These tiers closely resemble the actual state of the campaign

I disagree. This is a three way race between Edwards, Obama and Hillary.

Edwards is much closer to Obama and Hillary in the race than he is to Richardson who is no where near being in Edwards' league in this race.

by NCDemAmy 2007-06-04 09:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Top Candidates Receive More Debate Talk Time

I can agree that someone like Gravel doesn't need equal time. Nor Kucinich, possibly. He says some good things, but nobody outside his inner circle, and probably not even them, believe he has a shot this time.

In general, however, I don't think any candidate should have more than 150% of another candidate's time. Insurgent candidates need time to state why an insurgency is needed.

Also, I would agree that Richardson got more time than his tier might merit, except that for New Hampshire (and New Hampshire alone) those four tiers might describe the campaign as it currently stands.

by Englishlefty 2007-06-04 10:03AM | 0 recs
Re: Top Candidates Receive More Debate Talk Time

It's what you do with that time that matters. (3.00 / 1)

Edwards made the best use of his time to draw positive distinctions between himself and others on multiple issues.

That funny. He was attacking all night and he looked desperate.

by ND1979 2007-06-04 10:19AM | 0 recs

Conducting a series of debates between only two candidates so that each has to directly debate each other solves and creates some problems.
Candidates should get a roughly equal amount of time.
First tier candidates can't avoid confrontation by hiding in a forest of competitors.
Second tier candidates have an opportunity to directly demonstrate distinction between themselves and the entire first tier. Fewer comments would have to be cut off for the sake of time.

However, this does create a situation where there would be about 28 debates; debates with lower tier candidates wouldn't be watched by people only interested a first tier candidates.
There is a question as to whether these debates would be an arena where substantial issues could be addressed, or whether they'd simply be another parade of painfully asinine questions.
Additional benefit: Kucinich v. Gravel debate: it might not be the most edifying event, but it would be interesting to watch.

by anku 2007-06-04 10:24AM | 0 recs
Too early

OK, it's JUNE.  Don't you think it's just a bit early to winnow the field?  Democrats and America deserve to hear more than the three-headed fundraisers.  Clinton said last night that there was no difference amongst the Dem candidates, and lots of difference with the Republicans, but there are lots of voices in the party, and they should all be heard more 18 months before the election.

Just as America and the Republicans should be exposed to Ron Paul, so should we hear the ideas of Gravel and Kucinich and anyone else who will be on the ballot in 2007

Winnowing the field to just the big 3 so early in the process is undemocratic, especially if we see polls next week with Biden or Kucinich taking support away from Johnary Obamintonards.

by brooklyngreenie 2007-06-04 11:07AM | 0 recs
Re: Top Candidates Receive More

Richardson should count himself lucky he didn't get more time.  He just doesn't seem to have it.

by MassEyesandEars 2007-06-04 11:28AM | 0 recs
Here's an Idea

Why not have two debates one among the HIGHER ranking candidates and one among the LOWER ranking candidates only?  Think of it as a minor-leagues debate.  Then the best of them could potentially jump up to a higher level, given the extra exposure.

But who would watch?  I would, for one -- the chances of someone saying something really controversial are exponentially higher with the lower ranking candidates, making for a much more interesting time.

by Perry Oikos 2007-06-04 03:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Top Candidates Receive More Debate Talk Time

It's not surprising that CNN allots the lion's share of time to the front runners.  It's all about ratings.

What's striking is that the comments to this post rapidly sank into charge and counter-charge for/against favored candidates.

I have a favorite candidate but if my favorite wins or loses the nomination I'll support the party's nominee.

What we should all look at, in the hardest light possible, emotion aside, causes aside, is who can win.  

Don't think for a minute that the 2008 election is in the bag no matter who wins the nomination.  Please, please, please don't make that mistake.

We should all keep two things in mind.

1)    The presidential election is about 51 separate elections, not one.
2)    And this is really, really important - what candidate do the Republicans NOT WANT to run against

Think about it real hard.  The clues to that are already in front of us.

by cal1942 2007-06-04 08:39PM | 0 recs


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