ABC Debate Generates Ratings, Controversy

Apr 17, 2008  •  Post A Comment

ABC News generated the biggest presidential debate audience of the year along with swirls of controversy with its two-hour faceoff between Democratic contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama Wednesday night in Philadelphia.
Some 10.7 million total viewers tuned in during the debate moderated by “World News” anchor Charles Gibson and “This Week’s” George Stephanopoulos, according to data from Nielsen Media Research.
In Philadelphia, the broadcast scored an 18 rating (meaning 18% of the TV homes in the market were tuned to the debate) and a 27 share (meaning 27% of all TV sets in use in the market were tuned to the debate).
“That’s like an NFL game,” Dave Davis, the executive VP in charge of ABC News programming and special events such as the debate, told TelevisionWeek.
Mr. Davis defended his two moderators and the structure of the debate against the criticism.
TV critics, journalism publications and political pundits railed about everything from the number of reaction shots of Chelsea Clinton to the types of questions asked, especially during the first hour of the broadcast. During that period, Mr. Gibson and Mr. Stephanopoulos, a former campaign and White House aide for Bill Clinton, focused on questions about electability, American-flag lapel pins and well-covered recent hot-button stories on gaffes, misstatements and mistakes by both candidates.
The program was split into three segments: the first on the issues that have drawn the fire, the second on foreign policy and Iraq and the third on domestic issues.
Mr. David said the complaints about the number of shots of Sen. Clinton’s daughter “was probably a fair criticism,” but he noted the younger Clinton was sitting in a prominent position in a small arena, the National Constitution Center, and that Sen. Obama didn’t have family members in the audience.
But on other points he was firm that he was proud of Mr. Gibson, Mr. Stephanopoulos and ABC for granting the news division the two hours to carry the debate.
Since it had been almost two months since the two Democratic contenders last met in a debate, Mr. Davis said, ABC News thought it was “appropriate” to catch people up on the issues that triggered the criticism Thursday. “In my mind they are issues,” he said, particularly since so little distance separates the two candidates on the issues that should have gotten more focus according to the critics.
Pennsylvania’s Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, a supporter of Sen. Clinton, said he was “very disappointed in ABC that the first 45 minutes to an hour of the debate was on those sort of gotcha issues,” in an interview broadcast on ABC-owned WPVI-TV.
The Associated Press reported that Sen. Obama, campaigning in North Carolina Thursday, said, “Last night I think we set a new record because it took us 45 minutes before we even started talking about a single issue that matters to the American people. Forty-five minutes before we heard about health care, 45 minutes before we heard about Iraq, 45 minutes before we heard about jobs, 45 minutes before we heard about gas prices.”
Sen. Obama characterized the debate as “the rollout of the Republican campaign against me in November. They like stirring up controversy and they like playing gotcha games, getting us to attack each other.”
Sen. Obama’s campaign sent out $25 fundraising appeals headlined “Gotcha!”
“Enough is enough. The public needs the media to stop hurting the national dialogue in this important election year,” said an e-mail sent by liberal lobby MoveOn.org on Thursday to its members, asking them to sign a petition to ABC and other news organizations.
The petition asserted, “Debate moderators abuse the public trust every time they ask trivial questions about gaffes and ‘gotchas’ that only political insiders care about. Enough with the distractions—ABC and other networks must focus on issues that affect people’s daily lives.”
“The tone of the night was condescending, actually, as if Gibson and Stephanopoulos think the voters are not all that bright. They went hunting for hot buttons rather than clarity,” said the Columbia Journalism Review’s Mike Hoyt on www.cjr.org.
“The relentless rat-a-tat-tat of questions about campaign distractions by ABC moderators Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos was a vivid illustration of what is so wrong with so much that passes for political coverage today,” said American Journalism Review editor Rem Reider.
Mr. Stephanopoulos told Politico.com: “We asked tough but appropriate questions.”
The criticism, he said, “just comes with the territory.”

62 Comments

  1. ABC managed to ruin what could have been an honest exchange of ideas between the democratic candidates. We learned nothing new except perhaps that George had an agenda to avoid important issues, attacking Obama soley on his past associations. It was trivial and mean-spirited…both reporters sounded like high-school reporters. Fox…I mean ABC should be ashamed.

  2. Charlie and George, what an embarrassment to have these two hacks pretend to be moderators. Americans deserve better.

  3. ABC disappointed me in a huge way. They could have used this opportunity to have the country truly know the candidates, and their plans/issues and goals. Instead, they chose to degrade and humiliate. I turned the TV off after awhile. I was truly disappointed in ABC for their behavior. I didn’t want those truly insulting trivial questions to be asked. That is not why I turned the TV on. I want my kids to have healthcare. I want to be able to have a home. I want to have a good living. I want the troop back. I want to know the democrats and what they believe in, not who they associate with, and the attacks that go with that. How embarrassing for you. I will not watch a debate that ABC is hosting again. Not again. How shameful you should be for doing what you did. What a pitiful waste of time.

  4. Congratulations Charlie and George, your critics are all Obana whorshippers you know they get shivers up their legs msncb. I enjoyed the back and forth with little input from the moderator. Perhaps you could enlighten your competition. especially nbc. We watch the debate to get to know the candidates and I found last night very informative. We know by now what the issues are and who is in favor of what. We saw an intelligent woman who fights for what she beleives in and will be a great President. Thank you both and good night.

  5. MAYBE…just Maybe, we, as a country, can take a look at the circus that was labled a Debate two nights ago on ABC, and finally start to get a reality check on the absurdity of the length of the time spent “running for President”.
    While ABC’s Night-of-Infamy is this weeks focus point, we all need to look in the mirror and say, “Enough!”
    All the candidates over the last fifteen months are guilty of their ambitions running out-of-control.
    You can not tell me that any of them have been fulfilling the duties of the offices they currently hold.
    Would somebody please look up in a real, unabridged dictionary, the meaning of the word, “Debate” and then email it to all the media, the so-called candidates and their campaign directors. We have not had a “Debate” yet!
    We are systematically turning off the electorate by killing them with an overdose of crap labeled “important” politics.
    Why bother with conventions this year? Delegates getting together to build a Platform? Get real.
    Our Democracy deserves MUCH better…more than that it NEEDS much better.
    Yeah, ABC, George and Charlie get the prize this week…for crap.
    Big picture, we all get to take a bow for allowing our political process to get this low.
    Wake up America! Our Democracy is at stake.
    Peter Bright

  6. Fox News-Sean Hannity fed Stephanopolous’ lines which provided the first 45-minutes of the debacle…I mean “debate”. I’m not sure how you can call it a “debate” when you actually had Stephanoplous say to Hillary (former boss) ‘you don’t have to answer that question’.

  7. Literally, this debate made everyone want to yell out the window “I’m mad as hell (at ABC, Fox, etc etc) and I’m NOT going to take it anymore!”

  8. Good for Charlie and George. When Mr. Obama doesn’t wear the American Flag Lapel Pin, its important to me as an American. There’s pictures on the internet where he won’t even put his hand over his heart during the National Anthem. And, you NEVER see him wear the lapel pin! What does that say about him? On the other hand, to catch Mrs. Clinton distorting the truth so many times including the Bosnia Sniper Fire incident, she deserved to answer the question about it. The liberals can’t stand it when the truth comes out! However, if the same questions were directed at Mr. McCain, they would habe been appropiate! Always the double standard when it comes to a liberal!

  9. So the Britney/Lindsay style of journalism comes to politics. Keep talking about all the worthless petty personal items that no one cares about. Oh yeah, and then lets talk about the issues.

  10. We already know how dishonest and dispeakable the Clintons are. Now we’re finding out what an elitist, racist and anti-American Obama is.
    I salute Charlie and George for refusing to follow the line dictated by the leftist media.

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