Accuracy in Media

In an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Monday, Hillary Clinton tried to shift the blame for the Democratic debate schedule away from her campaign, on to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the networks, who she said preferred the weekends:

MADDOW: The sparse Democratic Party debate schedule this year, particularly when compared to the Republicans, a lot of people in the political press have ascribed that to your campaign, have ascribed that decision to your campaign essentially wanting a low-profile and spare debate schedule. Whether or not now looking back you think it was a good decision, is it true that your campaign advocated for a light schedule and particularly these debates being on in TV Siberia, on weekends and holidays?

CLINTON: Well, Rachel, I really don`t have any knowledge of that. I`m not saying that nobody representing me or the other campaigns didn`t express an opinion. But it was my understanding that in looking at the sequencing of these debates, looking at the numbers of people who watched back in `08, there was a decision to try to have a monthly debate once people were beginning to pay attention and try to drive more viewership. And actually I believe that we`ve had more viewers on average this year than we did back in `08.

So, I`m not going to substitute my judgment for whatever the thought process was. But as to when they`ve been scheduled, again, what I`m told is that they were partnered with broadcast and networks that wanted to provide the time. And indeed for most broadcast networks, Saturday or Sunday was preferable.

But because the viewership has been above average, I think people feel like there is a message in their process.

Yes, I’m sure the networks insisted that the debates take place on the weekend before Christmas and on the Martin Luther King holiday weekend because it would “maximize the opportunity” for voters to see the candidates, as DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has stated was the goal of the debates.

The networks know that the weekends are basically a vast TV wasteland, and that if it wasn’t for sports virtually no one would even bother to turn on their sets. The ratings for the Democratic debates have proven this. The one debate carried by CNN on a Tuesday attracted 15.8 million viewers. The last three debates—all on weekends—averaged 8.5, 8 and 10.2 million respectively, badly trailing even the lowest rated GOP debate.

Wasserman Schultz has denied that there has been any effort by the DNC to protect Clinton by limiting the number of debates and shunting most of them to the weekends. But what other reason could there be for the schedule when members of the DNC, as well as the other candidates, have called for more debates—only to be rebuffed by Wasserman Schultz?

While Clinton has tried placing the blame on the DNC and the networks, she could, as the frontrunner, request more debates if she really wanted to. But she knows that additional debates would benefit her competition more than her, and with her campaign in deep trouble the last thing she wants to do is give Bernie Sanders more opportunities to expose her record.

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