< Please, Watch The Debates

Transcript

Friday, December 09, 2011

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Standing, as we are, on the precipice of next month's Iowa caucus, you'd think that the good people of Iowa and New Hampshire would be drowning in political advertising. Yet, in comparison with 2007, at least, their airwaves are eerily quiet.

Earlier this week The New York Times reported that for a variety of reasons, including the fact that just Republicans are competing in this year's primaries, ad buys are down in those states, way down. Campaigns and political groups spent almost 22 million dollars in Iowa by this point in 2007. This year they've spent only 2.4. million. Instead, it seems free media have filled the void, first among them, the televised debate.

BRET BAIER CLIP:

Welcome to the Organge County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, the site of our Republican Presidential Debate.

MEGYN KELLY CLIP:

Speaker Gingrich, this next one's for you.

You criticize extending unemployment benefits, saying that you, quote, "opposed to giving people money for doing nothing."

Benefits have already been extended to 99 weeks...

RICK PERRY CLIP:

And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you're strong on immigration is on its face the height of hypocrisy.

MITT ROMNEY CLIP:

The governor says, look, states ought to be able to opt out of Social Security. Our, our nominee has to be someone who, who isn’t committed to abolishing Social Security, but who is ab - committed to, to saving Social Security.

We have always had, at the heart of our party, a recognition...

I, I don't think he knows what he's talking about, in that - in that regard.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor and longtime analyst of political media, says you should consume your debates. They're good for you.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:

When a good reporter does an extended interview with a candidate, you don't simply learn what the candidate wants to tell you, you learn what the candidate tells you after being confronted with tough questions.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Well, the candidates are relentlessly on message. They turn every question, no matter what the topic, back into their set of talking points.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:

What you learn about Governor Perry, when for an entire debate he kept moving back to energy policy no matter what he was asked, was that he may not have the range of expertise required to answer those questions, yet.

What you learn when the candidates on the Republican stage are asked, would you take ten times spending cuts to one times tax increase and they say no, you know the position of the entire Republican field and how it differs from the Obama administration. You know across the debates that these candidates oppose the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which they call Obamacare. You can't learn all of that in advertising.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

So do you see any value in political advertising, I mean, in terms of instructing the electorate?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:

Yes, no question. Advertising, in general, contains accurate, not inaccurate, statements.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

I'm surprised!

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:

That's historically true. And I tell you that having spent more hours than I would care to count [LAUGHS] analyzing claim by claim in the ads. But that doesn't mean that there aren't serious deceptions in them. That's why we need a lot of good journalism wrapped around this political process.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

It was interesting, the ratings for the early debates at least were pretty high. Were they higher than usual?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:

We tend to have higher attention to politics when the nation feels anxious, also when they're unhappy with the incumbent.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

But the ratings have lagged.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:

They tend to over time. But the fact that we had the early spike and that we have respectable ongoing levels is good news, candidates focused, for example, in one debate solely on foreign policy, another debate solely on economic matters. Your level of knowledge about these candidates has risen substantially, if you've paid even reasonable attention.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

You know, the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision has resulted in a Mount Everest of cash. What do you think led us to this moment where money is not dominating the media environment?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:

The opportunity to participate in the debates early said to candidates, I can reach my intended audience without expending ad dollars.

You would not have seen Speaker Gingrich emerge as a candidate or Mr. Cain emerge as a candidate, both of those candidacies driven by debate performances. They weren't doing very much advertising. In fact, in Gingrich's case he wasn't doing any.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Wow, these are glorious days for democracy.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:

[LAUGHS] Well, let's just say better than [LAUGHS] some others.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Doesn't it have something to do with the fact that there were so many GOP candidates, that people were keeping their money off the table?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:

No, we've had this number of fields before. I think what was accounting for it is the fact that you had the venues and they were attracting the audience.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Are you expecting an explosion of advertising in the coming months?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:

Yes. We're going to see so much advertising that you will turn on the Golf Channel and find ads, you'll turn on the channels that ordinarily would never see a political presence, and there they will be.

Indeed, they're gonna have to figure out how to put money into advertising on people's backs in order to spend all of their money.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

[LAUGHS] You know, you talk a lot about interviews, but these are GOP candidates and where we've seen the preponderance of interviews is on Fox News. Do you really think that the public is getting bang for that particular buck?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:

This week we saw extended interviews by Wolf Blitzer on CNN of Governor Perry and of Speaker Gingrich - good tough questions, very clear follow-up. Governor Perry's answers, for example, on Israel are going to create real controversy.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Certainly, Bret Baier got into a tussle with Romney on Fox News.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:

That was a good interview by Bret Baier. You also saw a very strong interview by Bill O'Reilly of Governor Perry the week that Governor Perry had put up an ad that took out of context a statement by President Obama.

In the ad Governor Perry says that President Obama says Americans are lazy. Bill O'Reilly said, that wasn't what he was referring to, was it? Wasn't he referring to government agencies? He also asked him to defend his position that President Obama is a socialist.

I think that we ought to be open to the possibility that Fox journalistic norms will hold Republican candidates accountable. And those of us who may not be inclined to watch Fox might be [LAUGHS] well served by watching those interviews.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Thank you very much.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:

You're welcome.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Kathleen Hall Jamieson is the head of The Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and director of Factcheck and the new website Flackcheck.org.