Politics
Debate moderators Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos speak before the Republican presidential candidates debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, December 10, 2011. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES  - Tags: ELECTIONS POLITICS)

Stephanopoulos struggles with fairness during NH debate

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Matthew Boyle
Investigative Reporter

ABC News commentator George Stephanopoulos directed pointed, hard-edged questions to Republican presidential candidates during Saturday night’s New Hampshire debate, often attacking without providing evidence to justify his broadsides.

When questioning former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Stephanopoulos, a former senior advisor in the administration of Democratic President Bill Clinton, premised some inquiries on the assertion — offered without supporting facts — that Romney’s job-creation statistics were inaccurate.

“Now, there have been questions about that calculation of 100,000 jobs. So if you could explain it a little more,” Stephanopoulos asked Romney of the former governor’s claims about jobs created by companies he has helmed. “I’ve read some analysts who look at it and say that you’re counting the jobs that were created but not counting the jobs that were taken away. Is that accurate?”

“No, it’s not accurate,” Romney bluntly responded. “It includes the net of both. I’m a good enough numbers guy to make sure I got both sides of that.”

Stephanopoulos did not cite any analysts by name.

In another line of questioning, Stephanopoulos asked Romney if he believes “that states have the right to ban contraception, or is that trumped by a constitutional right to privacy?”

Romney responded by questioning Stephanopoulos’ logic and his choice to raise a hypothetical situation that would never happen.

“You’re asking — given the fact that there’s no state that wants to do so, and I don’t know of any candidate that wants to do so — you’re asking could it constitutionally be done?” Romney asked, with a hint of incredulity.

Stephanopoulos, undeterred, pressed Romney again: “I’m asking you, do you believe that states have that right or not?”

Amid a chorus of “boos” from the audience, Romney again parried the impossible hypothetical.

“George, I don’t know whether a state has a right to ban contraception,” Romney responded. “No state wants to. I mean, the idea of you putting forward things that states might want to do that no state wants to do, and asking me whether they could do it or not, is kind of a silly thing, I think.”

The audience applauded. (RELATED: Romney, largely unchallenged, behaves like he’s already won GOP nomination)

Stephanopoulos also made a point of hammering Texas congressman Ron Paul about decades-old newsletters, published under Paul’s name, which contained racially sensitive statements.

Paul responded that “it’s been explained many times, and everything was written 20 years ago, approximately, that I did not write.”

Paul also claimed Martin Luther King was one of his personal heroes, and insisted that he was “the only one up here … that understands true racism in this country is in the judicial system. And it has to do with enforcing the drug laws.”

“Look at the percentages,” he continued. “The percentage of people who use drugs are about the same with blacks and whites. And yet the blacks are arrested way disproportionately. They’re prosecuted and imprisoned way disproportionately … How many times have you seen a white rich person get the electric chair or get, you know, execution?”

Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center, told The Daily Caller that Stephanopoulos’ questions about Paul’s newsletters indicates a double standard. “Stephanopoulos asking Paul about newsletters 20 years ago — again,” Bozell said. “How often does he hit Obama with Jeremiah Wright?”

Bozell added, too, that Stephanopoulos was the “Chief Democrat Spinmeister in ’92.”

“It’s 2012 and nothing’s changed,” he said.

Gingrich and Romney both took jabs at liberal media elites during the debate.

“I just want to raise a point about the news media bias,” Gingrich said after a rhetorical skirmish about gay marriage. “You don’t hear the opposite question asked.

“Should the Catholic Church be forced to close its adoption services in Massachusetts because it won’t accept gay couples, which is exactly what the state has done? Should the Catholic Church be driven out of providing charitable services in the District of Columbia because it won’t give in to secular bigotry? Should the Catholic Church find itself discriminated against by the Obama administration on key delivery of services because of the bias and the bigotry of the administration?”

“The bigotry question goes both ways,” Gingrich added. “And there’s a lot more anti-Christian bigotry today than there is concerning the other side. And none of it gets covered by the news media.”

Romney seconded Gingrich. “As you can tell, the people in this room feel that Speaker Gingrich is absolutely right and I do too,” Romney said after the former speaker’s comments earned him a loud applause.

UPDATE 3:05 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 8:

When The Daily Caller asked for the network’s thoughts on Stephanopoulos’ performance during the debate Saturday night, a spokeswoman for ABC News refused to comment.

“ABC has no comment,” spokeswoman Michelle Levi said in an email.

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This story was updated after publication to clarify that Stephanopoulos did not hold the title of press secretary during the Clinton administration. He did function as the de facto press secretary during the administration’s early days, however, conducting daily press briefings from the White House press room podium.