Ideally, journalists who cover presidential debates should be fair, objective truth-seekers, but tonight’s showdown between President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney may have the deck stacked in favor of the sitting president -- at least when it comes to ABC News’ coverage.
ABC News anchor and chief political correspondent George Stephanopoulos will be one of the journalists analyzing Wednesday’s debate for his network, and the former communications director for Bill Clinton has never been shy about his leftist leanings.
According to analysis from the Media Research Center's Newsbusters blog, Stephanopoulos declared victory for the Democratic candidate in eight out of the past nine general election presidential debates -- including Al Gore’s infamous eye-rolling-and-deep-sighing performance in his 2000 debate with George Bush, disagreeing with the majority of pundits who ceded victory to the soon-to-be president.
“Gore dominated,” Stephanopoulos declared after the debate. “It was even the way that he would interrupt Jim Lehrer and say, 'Listen, I want one more word.' He looked like he was dominating, and then again, the issues that the time was spent on, prescription drugs, education, Social Security, even the RU-486 and abortion issue, all of those favor Gore.”
Just last Sunday, during an appearance on "Good Morning America," Stephanopoulos argued that Romney is under “huge, huge” pressure. "He is behind right now. He is behind nationally, he’s behind in all of the battleground states. This is the last big audience that Mitt Romney is going to have with about four and a half weeks left to go.”
Should a journalist who is covering the presidential debates -- one who is ostensibly supposed to be neutral -- be offering such a negative opinion of one of the candidate’s chances in what could be a game-changing night?
Former New York Times executive editor Max Frankel criticized Stephanopoulos’ ascension from politics to punditry.
“The overnight transformation of George Stephanopoulos from partisan pitchman to television journalist highlights a disturbing phenomenon: the progressive collapse of the walls that traditionally separated news from propaganda,” warned Frankel way back in 1997. “Self-respecting news organizations used to pride themselves on the sturdy barriers they maintained to guard against all kinds of partisan contamination.”
For the past 15 years, there are numerous examples of Stephanopoulos championing Democrats with his purportedly “objective” analysis.
“(Obama) comes in at a significant disadvantage on commander in chief,” Stephanopoulos said after the 2008 debates between Obama and John McCain, a former prisoner of war. “People wonder whether he has this experience to be president, to handle national security, and I think on answer after answer after answer, he showed confidence, he showed toughness and he showed he belonged on that stage. ... Bottom line, the winner is Barack Obama.”
Stephanopoulos even gave the edge in 2004 to John Kerry, who went on to lose the election to George Bush. “I think the most important thing that Senator Kerry did stylistically last night is he showed strength in his demeanor,” Stephanopoulos opined post-debate. “I guarantee you that if you didn’t speak English, you walked in and watched the debate last night without the sound on, you would believe that John Kerry was the incumbent, was the president.”
Just last week, Stephanopoulos posted a video on his blog in response to one of his Twitter followers who asked if the momentum of the presidential race could change with the debates.
“(Here’s) the predicament that Mitt Romney faces right now,” explained Stephanopoulos. “You go back to the last 19 elections, in 18 of them the person who was ahead at this point, late September, 40 days out, has won the race,” adding that the former Massachusetts governor's “back is certainly up against the wall right now.”
So, who will win the debate tonight? If you ask Stephanopoulos, history says the odds are 88 percent that he’ll say Obama.