In order to get a balanced, well-rounded, and actually helpful analysis of a debate, panels should include thoughtful proponents of each side and those in the middle for balance, but broadcast news isn’t interested in providing that type of analysis. Rather, the intention of most post-debate panels are instead to push the desired narrative and sway viewers towards the pre-approved positions.
How else can it be explained that out of 26 post-debate analysts across five panels, there were only two open Trump supporters, and seven that are not publicly hostile toward the president? This blatant bias is not just misinforming, but also does viewers on both sides of the aisle a great disservice.
The enjoyment and importance of a post-debate analysis is to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates’ performances and how it will be viewed by supporters, undecided voters, and supporters of their opponent. Without a voice for the one candidate’s supporters, the panels are left with conjecture.
None of this is to say that there is no place for anti-Trump conservatives in post-debate analysis — far from it. Members of either party breaking rank is a worthwhile and helpful perspective. But when only a small fraction of those discussing the election support one of the two candidates, you’re creating a major blind spot, one held by every major network Wednesday night.
If one is only looking at party affiliation, MSNBC created an impressive team of analysts, with three Democrats, Rachel Maddow, Joy Reid, and former Sen. Claire McCaskill and two Republicans, Bush Communications Director Nicolle Wallace and former RNC Chair Michael Steele. However, this group only has the appearance of balance, as both Wallace and Steele are vehemently anti-Trump. Steele joined The Lincoln Project, a self-proclaimed conservative group working for the election of Joe Biden. Wallace is an open Never-Trumper.
ABC falls into the same trap of MSNBC, with the appearance of balanced equality. Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and CEO of progressive super PAC Democracy for America Yvette Simpson represent the left, while former Bush Director of Political Affairs Sara Fagan and ex-Republican/Bush campaign strategist Matthew Dowd represent the right. Dowd left the Republican party in 2007 and regularly speaks out against the President. Fagan has a far more nuanced approach to Trump, supporting some decisions and policies while criticizing those with which she disagrees or finds politically unwise.
During the first presidential debate between Trump and Biden, the ABC panel also featured Trump’s supporter and friend, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. While Christie obviously could not participate, as he is currently being hospitalized due to COVID-19, another supporter ought to have been sought out to take his place. His insights were sorely missed.
While CNN’s conservative to liberal ratio was even more skewed than MSNBC, they can at the very least boast an actual open Trump supporter, Rick Santorum. The former senator joined Democrats Anderson Cooper, Obama Chief Strategist David Axelrod, Obama Adviser Van Jones, and pundit Gloria Borger. It is interesting to note that there were two analysts who worked in the Obama/Biden White House, compared to the one conservative. However outnumbered, Santorum provided one of the only pro-Trump voices of the evening.
Even the television haven for conservatives, Fox News, was not immune from this criticism. Their 8-person panel featured objective news-side hosts Martha MacCallum and Bret Baier, as well as Chris Wallace who was criticized for his heavily bias questions as moderator in the first presidential debate. The panel also included Fox News liberals Juan Williams and former DNC Chair Donna Brazile (famed for illicitly leaking debate questions to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 primary), conservatives Brit Hume, Bush Adviser Karl Rove, and Bush Press Secretary Dana Perino.
While Wallace was positioned on the objective side, his shamefully one-sided performance as debate moderator showed him to be firmly in the Biden camp. Both Hume and Perino are very clearly conservative, and the pair approach the president with thoughtful nuance, both providing praise and criticism when deserved.
Rove was the closest to an actively pro-Trump analyst, as the political strategist has been informally advising the president’s reelection campaign. Of course, immediately after the panel, Fox viewers were able to attain the missing perspective by watching Sean Hannity’s show.
CBS News held their analysis on Elaine Quijano’s show “Red and Blue.” Their panel included Quijano, Ed O’Keefe, Major Garrett, and Caitlin Huey-Burns. Quijano’s VP debate moderation four years ago came under fire for bias towards Tim Kaine, and both O’Keefe and Garrett have been vocally in their dislike of the president.
The American people deserve to have the plurality of perspectives presented on the presidential candidates, so they can make an informed decision. How can the networks dedicate debate coverage to understanding the sizable portion of the country that are Trump voters if they refuse them a voice? The lack of ideological diversity is disappointing but not surprising.