ABCNews.com reported on Sunday that the network had invited Senators Barack Obama and John McCain to appear in a joint, 90 minute, primetime town hall meeting on ABC. This hardly seems balanced, as ABC has donated 64 minutes worth of town hall air time exclusively to Democrats during the just-ended presidential primary season. This came about through two such events that aired on "Good morning America" on March 26 and July 16, 2007, one with Hillary Clinton and another with John Edwards.
The Republicans, however, had no representation in a GMA town hall. So, what sense does it make to include a Democrat in ABC's first 2008 town hall that would have actually featured a GOP contender? (Yahoo News has reported that the Obama and McCain camps are rejecting of the offer of a joint appearance.) However, if ABC were to argue that McCain has also turned down previous requests for a exclusive town hall, is it likely that Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, Mike Huckabee or any of the other Republican primary contenders would have all said no to the same free publicity given to Edwards and Clinton?
The first such event featured softball questions from co-host Robert Roberts to Senator Clinton, including a query about whether the former first lady's 1993 plan for universal health care was "ahead of its time." Roberts even allowed Clinton plants from the town hall audience to pose questions:
ROBIN ROBERTS: What you said then in, in ‘93, many people felt it was just, in some ways, ahead of its, ahead of its time. Somebody that was there, and wants to ask you what is different now, between what happened then, and he is Dr. Steve Eckstat. He is, he works at the free clinic of Iowa. Doctor?
DR. STEVE ECKSTAT: Morning. In 1993, I was a member of the Clinton Health Care Task Force when we were attempting to provide universal health care coverage of all Americans...If elected president, Senator Clinton, would you be willing to try again to provide universal health care coverage for all Americans and make that at priority for your administration?
Roberts also let Clinton to go on at great lengths, speaking for 18 of the 26 minutes she was featured. On July 16, 2007, GMA presented a town hall (and a additional 38 minutes of air time) to another Democrat, John Edwards. And although Sawyer did ask tougher questions than Roberts, she also tossed Edwards queries such as "What’s the worst meal you’ve had on the road?" and "Do you listen to an iPod? Does it relax you on the road?"