CBS on defensive after Republican debate

The Republican presidential candidates took plenty of contentious positions in Saturday's debate, but it was the television network that aired the debate that found itself on the receiving end of a barrage of criticism on Sunday.

CBS News, which co-hosted the foreign policy debate in South Carolina with National Journal, was playing defense Sunday against complaints by viewers who were unable to watch the last half-hour and accusations by some of the candidates that they were deliberately ignored.

Although the first hour of the debate aired nationally on CBS stations, the last half-hour was available to most of the country only through a live webcast that quickly became overloaded by viewers attempting to connect. That led to a stop-and-start video stream that rendered the end of the debate unwatchable for many.

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"If you were going to do a webcast for the rest of #CBSNJDebate, you could've at least done a quality control test beforehand," tweeted one observer, appending the hashtag "Newmediafail."

CBS News spokeswoman Sonya McNair said all four CBS affiliates in South Carolina were offered the opportunity to carry the final 30 minutes of the debate.

But in a rare public airing of discord between station and network, CBS affiliate WSPA in Spartanburg, S.C. issued a statement contradicting debate moderator Scott Pelley, who said at the end of the broadcast that local stations would be carrying the remainder live.

"CBS' coverage of the Republican Debate from Wofford College in Spartanburg was scheduled by the network to air for one hour on the CBS affiliates around the country with any overage to air Sunday morning on Face the Nation," said Rob Romine, the station's general manager. "We are sorry for the inconvenience this has caused and for any confusion Mr. Pelley's comments have caused by telling South Carolina viewers to stay tuned for more debate coverage."

The other major line of attack came from the candidates, many of whom complained during the debate that strict adherence to 60-second time limits and 30-second rebuttals prevented them from fully articulating any policy and kept many of the minor candidates in the shadows. Jon Huntsman joked that he felt like he was in Siberia; Rick Santorum concurred.

Ron Paul's campaign was the first to cry foul after the debate, with his chairman, Jesse Benton, accusing CBS News of arrogance and of thinking they could choose the next president. Two hours later, Paul supporters received a message with the subject line "What a joke."

"Ninety seconds. That's how much of the first hour of tonight's GOP debate was given to Ron Paul. 90 measly seconds out of 3,600 seconds," wrote campaign manager John Tate.

But it was Michele Bachmann whose complaint came backed up by evidence that concerns about candidates’ being sidelined were raised even before the debate took place.

Just after the debate ended, Bachmann's campaign accused CBS News of deliberately keeping her questions to a minimum and planning a biased debate, with campaign manager, Keith Nahigian, reportedly calling CBS's newly anointed political director, John Dickerson, a "piece of s**t."

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Bachmann's campaign sent reporters a screenshot of an email exchange that took place before the debate in which Dickerson said Bachmann wouldn't be getting many questions and the network should make plans to interview another candidate during a post-debate webcast. The email to CBS News staffers to which Dickerson had been responding included a note that Alice Stewart, Bachmann's spokeswoman, was included in the email chain, but Dickerson appeared not to have noticed.

"Okay let's keep it loose though since she's not going to get many questions and she's nearly off the charts in the hopes that we can get someone else," Dickerson wrote.

A spokesperson for CBS News pointed out that Bachmann is polling at about 4 percent in the Republican presidential race, calling the email "a candid exchange about the reality of the circumstances."

But by Sunday afternoon, Bachmann's campaign was fundraising off of the incident. Nahigian sent an email to Bachmann supporters accusing the media of manipulating the debates to suppress their conservative message, including a link to a copy of the Dickerson email.

"Please show your support by tweeting your outrage to CBS News and John Dickerson or posting on Facebook to give them a piece of your mind," Nahigian wrote. "Afterwards, I hope you will make a donation to Michele's campaign to ensure she has the funds necessary to fight back against the liberal media."

Bachmann's indictment of the media came at the same time that she was praising elements of the media for aggressively pursuing the Penn State sex scandal to expose abuse of children.

"The media gets beaten up a lot, but I think this is exactly where the media is needed more than ever, is to shed light on this situation," she said Sunday on NBC News.



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