Why Was Fiorina Denied Ad Time During the Debate?

by Nathan L. Gonzales February 8, 2016 · 9:00 AM EST

Carly Fiorina didn’t make Saturday night’s Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire because she didn’t meet ABC’s polling threshold. But the network appeared to add insult to injury by not allowing her campaign to air television ads during the debate either. At least that’s what her campaign wanted you to believe.The public outcry on the lack of ad time appeared to start with a reporter’s tweet that was subsequently amplified by the Fiorina campaign.

“Breaking: Not only has ABC barred #Carly #Fiorina from tonights NH GOP debate, its now refusing to sell her ad time then. #Rigged,” according to Andrew Malcolm of Investor’s Business Daily on Twitter.

The reality of the situation is more complicated, in part, because television ad time is divided between the national network and local affiliates.

The most glaring problem with the Fiorina campaign’s complaining is the fact that it did air television ads during the debate on WMUR, the local ABC affiliate and one of the debate’s co-hosts. According to sources in New Hampshire, the ad was one the campaign is reportedly going to show during the Super Bowl.

The Fiorina campaign was denied ad time during the debate by the national NBC network, but its action doesn’t appear to be out of the ordinary.

“It is standard procedure to not allow campaigns to advertise inside the debate,” one Republican media buyer told me on Saturday night.

That lines up with ABC’s response to Fiorina’s campaign, which was obtained from a spokesperson:

“ABC Network will decline this and any other opportunities to sell any political candidate time in this or any other debate. Under FCC rules, we are not required to sell time to candidates within or adjacent to any news programs, or we can sell time in certain news programs but not others. Based on this, ABC Network NEWS is taking the position that we will not sell any political candidate time in political debates, just as we do not sell candidate time within World News Tonight or the first hour of Good Morning America. Again, thank you for expressing interest for our upcoming debate.”

Setting aside the question as to whether the Fiorina campaign could afford the national ad time it was requesting, as one unaligned GOP consultant questioned to Roll Call, the Fiorina campaign claims that the rule doesn’t apply equally when every other candidates gets “two hours of free air time,” and is trying to milk a storyline that the media is out to get Fiorina.

But the fact that she was the only one left off the stage is both technically not true (where art thou Jim Gilmore?) and a simple function of a handful of candidates dropping out of the race. And “ABC” did sell her ad time during the debate.

It’s not hard to make the case that the Republican Party could benefit from Fiorina’s presence on the stage as the only woman in the race, but the notion that “ABC” bent over backwards to make sure she didn’t have a voice on Saturday night just doesn’t match reality.