07/24/2007 09:54 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Debate Night Coverage: CNN vs. FOX

Written by OffTheBus Contributor "Karen T.":

Fox had an interesting, seemingly "fair and balanced" room of South Carolinians serving as a focus group during the debate, probably fairly equally balanced between African-American and white voters (according to Anderson Cooper of CNN, African-American voters are just less than 50% of registered voters in South Carolina).

This group was led by Frank Luntz, author of the book "Words That Work." Lunz was impressed with the fact that, going in, most focus group attendees expected Clinton to "win" the debate, but, going out, believed that Sen. Barack Obama actually had in style. Interestingly enough, this group was nearly as impressed with Biden, on substance.

The Fox network brought on Dick Morris as their lead "analyst," answering questions from Sean Hannity. Questions by the conservative Hannity seemed to be fairly "balanced," but, the tipoff that Morris is not just any unbiased analyst came when he was asked what questions, not asked, he would have addressed to the candidates. Repeatedly, Morris referred to Clinton as "Mrs. Clinton," an obviously inappropriate title as she is a sitting senator and former first lady.

In addition, throughout the Fox coverage, clips were shown of Clinton not on a podium by herself, but only in scenes with President Clinton's arm around her. The clips served either to portray her as an extension of President Clinton, or portray her as the "little woman," or both.

Fox coverage after the debate was limited, (however, on MSNBC, there was no immediate post-debate coverage), admittedly, but framed the debate as a contest between Clinton and Obama.

In contrast, the CNN post-analysis stated that "overall, there was no clear winner," and noted that "Hillary continues to deliver a command performance." The CNN website story also stated that "most observers" agreed that none of the candidates had particularly outshone their rivals, "doing nothing" to challenge Sen. Hillary Clinton's position as frontrunner.

The CNN coverage showed the complexities within the Democratic party by focus groups of its own - notably in Nevada and New Hampshire. The group in New Hampshire seemed small and either mostly or all white. The top three winners according to that group were Obama, Biden, and Sen. John Edwards. However, in the Nevada group, which was larger and somewhat more ethnically diverse, Richardson and Clinton tied for first place, followed by Obama and Edwards.

One question which none of the debate observers asked of focus group participants was whether they would choose whomever they believed to be the "winner" of the debate as the Democratic nominee.