Before Wednesday night's presidential debate, some wondered if Jim Lehrer, veteran anchor of the evening newscast of government-funded PBS, would be fair and objective.
Republican nominee Mitt Romney had called — and did so again during the debate — for ending taxpayer funding of PBS, which I perceive as slanting a bit, and sometimes more than a bit, to the left in its programming.
(Full disclosure: for four years long ago, I was a token libertarian-conservative commentator and reporter for the West Coast Production Center of PBS in Los Angeles, television station KCET, and had ample behind-the-scenes opportunities to witness this slant in action.)
The highly respected Mr. Lehrer early in Wednesday's debate let President Barack Obama take all the time he wished when speaking, but repeatedly cut off Governor Romney's attempts to extend his remarks.
This evened out somewhat as the dialogue continued.
By the end of the debate, Reuters reported, President Obama had spoken for four minutes more than Governor Romney.
In a 90-minute debate, four minutes more for one side is only a little more than 4 percent of the available time. These extra minutes are too valuable to be dismissed as of no importance.
The current estimate is that at least 67 million people watched this debate.
That is 60 percent of the 111 million viewership of the last Super Bowl.
Ads for this season's Super Bowl are selling for $7 million or more per minute to reach its vast audience.
If we applied the same yardstick to the value of minutes during Wednesday night's debate, with 60 percent of a Super Bowl audience its minutes could be worth $4.2 million apiece.
For Jim Lehrer to have let President Obama talk for four more minutes than Governor Romney could be tantamount to giving Mr. Obama a campaign contribution of $16.8 million.
Or, by denying Governor Romney his equal "fair share" of minutes, 2 of the 4 given to President Obama, Mr. Lehrer in a sense took away $8.4 million worth of airtime from the Romney campaign.
Such imbalance in allotted airtime is one of the ways that media bias tilts the playing field.
My impression of Jim Lehrer's performance as moderator was that the 78-year-old was trying to do a fair and balanced job, but he let his deference to the president allow what should have been equal time become unequal.
As my good friend, national radio talk star Roger Hedgecock, said when I mentioned this Thursday as a guest on his show, "if Mr. Obama had been given another 10 minutes to speak he would have ended his re-election chances then and there."
Maybe, opined Hedgecock, the president should have been given more extra minutes.
Quality of speech is far more important than quantity of speech, as America saw Wednesday night.
Yet the national media sells its airtime by the minute, just as your supermarket sells baloney by the pound — and Mr. Lehrer (from now "quasi-commercial" PBS) gave Democratic President Barack Obama four more minutes than his opponent to feed America baloney.
It would be nice if this imbalance was corrected during the next two debates by giving Governor Romney four extra minutes — just, as Democrats say, to be "fair."
Lowell Ponte is co-author, with Craig R. Smith, of "Crashing the Dollar: How to Survive a Global Currency Collapse"; "The Inflation Deception: Six Ways Government Tricks Us . . . And Seven Ways to Stop It"; and "Re-Making Money: Ways to Restore America's Optimistic Golden Age." For a limited time, you can get a free postpaid copy of "The Inflation Deception" by calling 800-630-1494. Read more reports from Lowell Ponte — Click Here Now.
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