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.