SPARTANBURG, SC — Michele Bachmann told reporters in the spin room after Saturday night’s presidential debate here that her campaign has proof that, in the words of a Bachmann spokesperson, debate sponsor CBS News had “a pre-planned attempt to limit” the number of questions Bachmann was asked on stage.
Bachmann has an email from CBS News Political Director John Dickerson she says backs up her claims, but before the controversy could cook off, one debate co-sponsor — the South Carolina GOP — said Bachmann was barking up the wrong tree.
“The SCGOP had no input on how questions were developed or to whom they were addressed,” party Executive Director Matt Moore told TPM. “Congresswoman Bachmann seemed to receive a fair number [of] questions, and had ample opportunities to answer.”
That’s not how Bachmann saw it.
“Clearly, we received an email today, unintentionally, that CBS had an effort not to ask questions,” she said. “That was their effort, I don’t know why.”
“The email was targeted to me,” Bachmann said. “I don’t know if it was targeted to anyone else.”
The email in question came from Dickerson at 2:42 Saturday afternoon. Dickerson, a longtime DC political reporter for Time and then Slate who was just announced as political director for CBS News on Saturday, was emailing with some CBS staff, but appeared to inadvertently include Bachmann spokesperson Alice Stewart on the string. The email string is below.
First came a message from CBS staffer Caroline Horn, sent to Dickerson and others that appear to be CBS News staff, with Stewart CC’d:
John, Sarah, and Mike,
I was just speaking with Alice Stewart, cc’d here, about the Congresswoman or a senior member if her staff joining you for the webshow. She said she would be happy to arrange. Sarah - you want to touch base with her later tonight?
Then comes Dickerson’s reply a few minutes later:
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
To Team Bachmann, that was evidence of something that seemed nefarious. “Clearly, CBS demonstrated there was a pre-planned attempt to limit questions,” Stewart told TPM.
Dickerson said the email was about Bachmann’s objectively low poll numbers, not a bias.
“Bachmann is at 4 percent in the polls and has been for a while,” he told TPM. “Other candidates aren’t. I sent an email based on that.”
To be sure, other candidates who aren’t frontrunners also complained as they often do about not getting the screen time they deserve.
“It’s lonely over here in Siberia,” Jon Hunstman said on stage Saturday at one point when the moderators turned to him after a long stretch of asking other candidates questions.
Stewart said Bachmann got “the least questions and no followups,” which won’t be verifiable until an analysis of debate time can be done. But with the most objectively pro-Republican of the three sponsors of the debate — the event was co-hosted by CBS News, National Journal and the SC GOP — coming down on the side of the moderators already, it will probably be hard for Bachmann to make her case that there was bias against her.