The 2004 Fox Debates Targeted Dean and Clark: Stats
by catherineD, Mon Feb 26, 2007 at 11:03:07 AM EST
Does Fox News go into a Democratic debate with a plan to be objective?
Then do they go in with a plan to smear all candidates equally?
The answer to that lies in looking at the questions they asked in previous Democratic presidential debates. Like the one they co-sponsored in Detroit, October 26, 2003.
Our purpose: To determine whether Fox News dished out smears in an evenhanded way, or whether a pattern of heavyhandedness against only some of these candidates will be revealed.
The format was two rounds of foreign policy, the third round domestic, and a fourth they called "conventional wisdom." This last question amounted to defending yourself from gossip, so we'll skip that and just look at the three so-called policy questions.
We'll restrict our focus to the major candidates of 2004 and Kucinich.
This is the important part of Dean's first question.
...What do you say to service members and their families who view your position as something short of supporting the troops?
Here's his second question.
You have been unstintingly critical of this war, yet, with all due respect, you have commanded nothing more than the Vermont National Guard. You did not serve in the military. How would you, as president, be able to exert any credibility, any command over a post-war Pentagon?
His third was fairly reasonable, asking how he'd balance the budget, but specifically mentioning Medicare and Medicaid.
The first two questions for Dean were clearly meant to denigrate him, without offering him an opportunity to talk about substantive policies.
Dean seems to have been someone they wanted to take down.
Here's the important part of Kerry's first question.
Is it inconsistent for you to support the resolution and not the reconstruction money?
And now let's look at his second.
Senator Kerry, a question for you on troop strength. We have U.S. forces all over the world in a variety of hot spots; potential crisis in manpower. What would you do to resolve that? Should there be an increase in call-ups, reserve and guard, reinstate the draft or pull them back?
His third question asked his plan to balance the budget.
Kerry got surprisingly gentle treatment. Look at how his questions differed from Dean's. His question about balancing the budget didn't say anything about how he would handle Medicare and Medicaid. Even the suggestion that he was being inconsistent was much gentler than how Dean's similar question was phrased with its suggestion that he didn't support the troops. And most importantly, his question about troop strength had no hidden sneer and offered an opportunity to talk about policy.
They must have thought Kerry would be a weak opponent in the general election, because there was nothing in his politics to explain why they gave him decent questions while trashing Dean.
Clark's first question said his political message was confusing and asked him to explain where he stood. There was an unprecedented follow-up question, that went like this:
Are we to understand that what you're saying now is that those things you have said that were positive about the war was not what you meant?
Clark's second question asked him to explain why he had been fired from NATO for character and integrity issues.
I wonder if you could take a moment and explain to us why, at the end of your time as the supreme allied commander of NATO, you were not re-upped and why such folks as Retired General Hugh Shelton have suggested you were effectively fired for what he called character and integrity issues?
His third question on domestic policy was the same boring one we'd seen before, asking how he would balance the budget. There was a sarcastic edge to this, suggesting that this information wasn't available in the economic plan he'd just introduced that week.
They were pretty clearly out to get Clark.
Lieberman's first question managed to denigrate his opponents in the actual question, before providing Lieberman with his platform.
Senator Lieberman, you've certainly not called the positions that your rivals have taken on the war and on the funding unpatriotic, but you have called it inconsistent. You've suggested that it's weak and that it sends a duplicitous message to the world. You've heard a variety of opinions expressed by your rivals. Why are they wrong?
The second question asked how he would resolve the Palestinian issue.
The third asked him what he would do about the problem of poor people receiving inferior medical and legal help.
Not surprisingly, Lieberman's questions were designed to make him look good.
The first question to Edwards suggested he was refusing to take responsibility for co-writing the Patriot Act.
...the PATRIOT Act...has been much criticized by virtually everybody on this stage...Shouldn't it, in fact, be incumbent on those of you who wrote the legislation to take responsibility for it...?
The second question asked how he would resolve the problem with North Korea.
This was the third question.
What is your urban agenda? What are your priorities?
While the first question was hard-hitting, Edwards was thereafter actually allowed to talk about substantive issues. The question about North Korea gave him an opportunity to look stronger on foreign policy, generally considered his weak spot, while the urban question allowed him to talk about an issue that is generally considered his strength.
As with Kerry, they must have thought Edwards would be easy to beat in a general election.
The first question suggested that Kucinich's lack of access to secret info from the CIA and FBI meant he had no basis for being opposed to the war.
This was the second.
Congressman Kucinich, you have proposed changing the name of the Department of Defense to the Department of Peace, but in a world in which our enemies are willing to kill themselves to kill us, is it not better that we stand and fight? And is it not better that we wage that battle on foreign shores and not here in America?
The third went again to balancing the budget, with a suggestion he'd raise taxes.
Kucinich's questions seem to have been more aimed at advancing neocon talking points in the questions than in caring about scoring points off of the candidate.
I'll leave Kucinich unrated, as I don't think Fox News really cared about advancing or subverting his candidacy.
I think it's obvious that Fox News manipulated the questions in hopes of manipulating the primary.
So here is how I rank them from most favored to most hated.
#1: Lieberman. None of the questions slighted him in the least.
#2: Kerry. He did get the boring budget question, but he still squeaks ahead of Edwards because even his "inconsistency" question was fairly gentle.
#3: Edwards. Edwards had a tough first question, but his foreign and domestic policy questions couldn't have been any sweeter.
All of the preceding three seem to be generally liked by the Fox people -- at least, for the purposes of this debate.
If all of the questions in the debate resembled those we saw in the first three, then we might reasonably assume that Fox News was capable of objective programming.
But all of the questions weren't like that. It is clear from the questions aimed at the two remaining candidates, that Fox News was out to get both of them.
#4: Dean. The suggestions that Dean wouldn't support the troops and they wouldn't support him were pretty awful. But the question on balancing the budget was actually an issue of particular interest to Dean.
#5: Clark. Clark wins the award for "most hated candidate" primarily because of the question that said he got fired from NATO for character problems. It doesn't get much worse than that. The insinuation that he wouldn't back his previous words also helped him win this award. Finally, more than anyone, Clark needed a domestic policy question about something more interesting than budgets and he didn't get one.
So did Fox News smear all of the Democratic primary candidates equally?
They seem to have set out to bring down the campaigns of Wesley Clark and Howard Dean.
And perhaps they succeeded.
Who knows to what extent they, and perhaps the other networks, ultimately manipulated the entire primary season, with their talking heads and talking points.
Who will they single out next time for destruction? We'll know soon enough if they're left to run the Nevada debate.
But don't expect us to simply shrug off their manipulations. After all, we didn't last time.