Was the Fox Debate Fair and Balanced?

Depending on the political perspective of viewers, the anticipated debate between the 10 GOP presidential candidates more than likely met their expectations. Democrats certainly did not learn anything new and Republicans probably believe that the 10 candidates gave a good account of themselves.

Most viewers probably watched the debate to see how Donald Trump would perform. The front-runner based on polls, Trump has been left, right, and center in the media because of his controversial comments about illegal immigrants from Mexico and Sen. John McCain not being a war hero. From the opening bell, Chris Wallace asked Trump a question that allowed him to seem like he was going to control the debate as he talked for more than the allotted time.

Perhaps the most exciting exchange in the debate occurred when Megan Kelly asked Trump about his anti-woman’s position. This got a long testy response from Trump. Other than that, the much-anticipated showdown between Trump and the other candidates did not materialize. Instead, the showdown was between Gov. Christie and Sen. Rand Paul. Both men went at it like two erratic boxers throwing punches from all angles.

The most revealing thing about the debate was that the 10 GOP candidates did not offer anything to convince independent viewers that they have the right stuff to be president. Much of the rhetoric was the same: “this President is incompetent,” “I will repeal Obamacare from day one as president,” and “I will dismantle the nuclear deal with Iran.” The anti-Obama position was evident and was consistent with the same rhetoric that the GOP has been using for the past 18 months.

A reasonable criticism of the debate was that it was anything but fair and balanced. Some candidates had more time to talk than others did and some were asked what seem to be tougher questions. Scott Walker had 9 direct questions and Bush and Trump both got 8. Chris Christie and Rand Paul were at the lower end of the scale with 5 questions.

The format of the debate clearly did not make it a fair and balanced debate, as not all candidates were asked the same questions consistently. Some candidates were allowed to talk for several seconds after their allotted time and not all candidates got extra time for rebuttal. Another criticism was that the cheerleading applause should not have been allowed as it slowed the debate down and was a distraction.

It seems that there are some valid reasons for TV stations not to arrange or host a political debate. There is a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) statute,

Section 315 [47 U.S.C. §315] Facilities for candidates for public office. That states,

(a)    If any licensee shall permit any person who is a legally qualified candidate for any public office to use a broadcasting station, he shall afford equal opportunities to all other such candidates for that office in the use of such broadcasting station: Provided, That such licensee shall have no power of censorship over the material broadcast under the provision of this section.  No obligation is hereby imposed under this subsection upon any licensee to allow the use of its station by any such candidate.  Appearance by a legally qualified candidate on any –

(1)    bona fide newscast,

(2)    bona fide news interview,

(3)    bona fide news documentary (if the appearance of the candidate is incidental to the presentation of the subject or subjects covered by the news documentary), or

(4)    on-the-spot coverage of bona fide news events (including but not limited to political conventions and activities incidental thereto),

shall not be deemed to be use of a broadcasting station within the meaning of this subsection.  Nothing in the foregoing sentence shall be construed as relieving broadcasters, in connection with the presentation of newscasts, news interviews, news documentaries, and on-the-spot coverage of news events, from the obligation imposed upon them under this Act to operate in the public interest and to afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views of issues of public importance.

I am not a lawyer, but this statute seems like it should apply to debates too. Is Fox TV going to arrange a Democratic Party debate? I doubt it. If Fox TV was really fair and balanced, then they should have no problem giving equal time for a debate by the Democratic Party candidates.