Ron Paul And Michele Bachmann Complain They Weren’t Treated Fairly At Debate

Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann both complained after last night’s debate that they weren’t being treated fairly by the moderators:

Fireworks were few and far between at the GOP’s foreign policy debate tonight, but if any issue provoked the ire of some candidates it was not each other but rather how CBS News’ moderator Scott Pelley ran the event.

Numerous candidates from Rep. Michele Bachmann to Rep. Ron Paul complained about unfair treatment from the network, arguing that rival campaigns had received far more attention during the debate. The Bachmann campaign went so far as to release an email that they said spokeswoman Alice Stewart had “inadvertently received” from CBS earlier in the day.

In the email string, CBS News’ political analyst John Dickerson said that Bachmann was “not going to get many questions during the debate and she’s nearly off the charts,” a reference to the Minnesota congresswoman’s low standing in the polls.

After the debate Stewart said that CBS News was guilty of “a bias” against Bachmann.

“I inadvertently received an email where CBS made it clear that Michele was going to receive fewer questions than the other candidates. Clearly this is a problem,” Stewart said. “The debates are an opportunity for the candidates to share their views on the issues. This is an important issue for Congresswoman Bachmann. She’s a member of the House, the Foreign Intelligence Committee. She knows this issue unlike the other candidates on this stage and the email chain that I inadvertently received clearly indicates a bias on CBS’ part to limit the questions to Congresswoman Bachmann.

“We had discussions about [it] and they indicated that they would make sure that the level — that the playing field would be level,” Stewart added. “However she received substantially fewer questions than the other candidates and she wasn’t allowed any follow-ups.

Bachmann’s camp wasn’t alone:

Paul’s spokesman Jesse Benton accused CBS of “disgraceful” actions that stemmed from an “arrogance” in thinking that “they can choose the next president.”

“Ron Paul consistently polls among the top three in the key early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire,” Benton said in a statement. “He is polling in double digits in most respected polls. Congressman Paul is ranked among the top three in fundraising results. Congressman Paul serves on the House Foreign Relations Committee. Congressman Paul is a veteran. And, Congressman Paul has contrasting views on foreign policy that many Americans find worthy of inquiry and discussion. CBS’s treatment of Congressman Paul is disgraceful, especially given that tonight’s debate centered on foreign policy and national security.

“Congressman Paul was only allocated 90 seconds of speaking in one televised hour,” Benton said. “If we are to have an authentic national conversation on issues such as security and defense, we can and must do better to ensure that all voices are heard. CBS News, in their arrogance, may think they can choose the next president. Fortunately, the people of Iowa, New Hampshire, and across America get to vote and not the media elites.”

Bachmann and Paul were not the only ones who complained. During the debate itself, former Utah Gov. and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman at one point remarked, “Gets a little lonely over here in Siberia.” To which former Sen. Rick Santorum quipped, “Tell me about it.”

The general assessment, from candidates to pundits, to those of us who were actually watching the debate and commenting on it over Twitter last night is that this was indeed the worst debate so far. It’s not that the questions were that bad, some of them were actually quite good. The problem was a combination of CBS’s odd decision to broadcast only 2/3 of a 90 minute debate that they were supposedly co-sponsoring and the moderators themselves. National Journal’s Major Garrett did a fairly good job. As you’d expect from a print reporter, his questions were detailed and actually required the candidates to think a little (not that most of them took him up on it, to be honest). CBS’s Scott Pelley, however, who now sits in the same anchor chair once occupied by men like Walter Conkrite, was an utter disaster. He was apparently in charge of time management, so if anyone is to blame for that part of the disaster it was him. The worst part of that came at the very end of the livestream where he asked a question and then cut off Rick Santorum before he’d even gotten a sentence out to say “That’s it, good night everyone.” Totally amateur.

As for the complaints of Bachmann and Paul, and the less vocal complaints that Huntsman and Santorum registered during the debate, they do have a point but I’m not sure what they answer is. In a 90 minute debate (which it really isn’t since there were at least three commercial breaks during the courts of the show), that gives you roughly 11 eleven minutes per candidate if you divide it equally, and that’s not counting the time for asking the questions themselves. Would be be nice if all the candidates got the same amount of time? Probably, but practically speaking there are some people on that stage who are contenders for the nomination and there are others who are not. To the extent the debate producers want the presentation to be newsworthy, it makes sense to focus more time on those candidates. I would have preferred to have heard a lot more from Governor Huntsman than the six minutes of time he got last night but I’m not sure it’s accurate to call what was done “unfair.” More accurately, I’d just call it a really badly run debate.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Terrye says:

    It was a weird debate.

  2. anjin-san says:

    It was a weird debate

    Kind of inevitable, given the participants…

  3. WR says:

    At least the Republican party can sum up its entire philosophy on one bumper sticker:


  4. Tlaloc says:

    Hot Air calls it the best debate so far.

  5. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    Those two still are running for president??