The Challenges of Being ‘Fair’ In a Primary Debate

By Alex Weprin 

On the eve of CNN’s GOP national security debate, the AP’s David Bauder writes about the challenges TV news operations face when broadcasting primary debates. Specifically, the issue at hand is fairness: what constitutes “fair,” and are the networks living up to that goal.

The AP looked at all of the debates so far, and found that Mitt Romney received more questions than any other candidate, followed by Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. The other candidates received significantly fewer questions.

Bauder uses the recent CBS News/Michele Bachmann flap as a way to ease into the issue. he spoke to CBS News president David Rhodes:

“Part of why we’re here is to serve an audience,” Rhodes said. “The audience has a greater interest in people who are more likely to succeed in the process. You could argue that’s unfair because some of the people who are not successful today could become successful tomorrow, and that’s true. But that’s a challenge for these people — not for us.”

“You have to treat all of the candidates the same,” said Sam Feist, CNN’s current Washington bureau chief. “If you’re going to invite them, you have to treat them the same, particularly with the fluidity of this race.”