TV Article

Cable News' Great Debaters

With debate season making headlines, it seems like a good time to check in with a trio of cable-news power players — Fox News' Megyn Kelly, CNN's John King, and MSNBC's Rachel Maddow — for their thoughts on TV debates...and what their favorite nonpolitical shows are

Megyn Kelly
Fox News' America Live (Weekdays, 1 p.m.)

On moderating a Fox News debate versus anchoring her own show
''At Fox [which has been No. 1 in cable-news ratings for 10 years], we try not to repeat questions that have been asked before, and you really have to anticipate the [candidates'] responses. Unlike on my show, where I can jump in if they give a nonresponsive answer, the decorum of the debates is that you don't interrupt the candidates. They're given 60 seconds to respond. So you have to have all the things in the question that you think they're going to try to use to dodge your question.''

On what viewers want from debates
''A real plan, something they can mull over about what's going to get us over this economic mess. Whenever somebody tries to rip on President Obama, some viewers want to hear that, because they feel the same, but most viewers want more than that. They say, 'Okay, we know you don't like the other guy. What are you gonna do?' So I try not to let people get away with platitudes.''

Favorite TV show
''Downton Abbey. My favorite favorite is Pride and Prejudice. The BBC version, with Colin Firth.''

John King
CNN's John King, USA (Weekdays, 6 p.m.)

On moderating a CNN debate versus anchoring his own show
''In a debate format, if someone is trying to ignore your question, you can try to pin them down. In the June debate, Gov. Tim Pawlenty had [used the term] 'Obamneycare' on a Sunday show but didn't want to say it in the debate. I said, 'Well, if you can say it yesterday, why don't you say it with your opponent standing there?' You can't do that the whole time. If Ron Paul or Rick Santorum doesn't answer a question directly during a debate, I can ask a follow-up, nudge a second time, but... You can leave it up to the other candidates. It's their opportunity to say, 'Hey, you didn't answer that.' You have to strike a balance.''

On angering Newt Gingrich by asking about his marriages
''It is not my job to be part of the story. We spent a lot of time discussing whether that was the right thing to do. I'm comfortable with the decision. I have covered politics for 26 years now, and I know that sometimes the politicians will try and make you part of the issue. It happens.''

Favorite TV show
''I've become a fan of The Big Bang Theory. I like shows where you have an ensemble that has a symbiotic relationship.''

Rachel Maddow
MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show (Weekdays, 9 p.m.)

On whether she'd want to moderate a debate
''I would love to. I have a lot of questions for these guys, but we have a hard time convincing any candidates to come on the show. [On my show] our responsibility is to be unimpeachable in the facts, and then to be honest about when we are giving our opinion. We don't fake objectivity on cable. We tell you where we're coming from, but that doesn't mean we lie or twist the facts. We're responsible to our viewers, who are learning about the world through what we tell them.''

On what viewers want from debates
''It has been hard to judge whether or not Republican primary voters have been politically driven or style-driven. I think there are not very many policy distinctions between these candidates. But when they go after each other with negative campaigns, they are trying to make it seem there are differences. There is anecdotal evidence that what gets rewarded the most is the person who is the most pugnacious or the angriest, whether it's against their rivals or President Obama.''

Favorite TV show
''I do confess to watching a little Jersey Shore. I am a Vinny partisan.''

Originally posted Feb 24, 2012 Published in issue #1196 Mar 02, 2012 Order article reprints