The standard objection to Fox News is that the network's on-air personalities are biased. A better complaint may be that they talk too much.
A certain level of blabber is necessary on television, of course -- not to mention in opinion-writing -- and until recently it would have been hard to say that Fox News was any better or worse on that score than anyplace else. Now, thanks to Eric Ostermeier, a political scientist at University of Minnesota who measured the speaking time during this year's Republican presidential debates, we can say with precision: Fox News people are precisely 40.1 percent more talkative than anchors at the other networks.
Ostermeier studied the 10 debates held since Rick Perry joined the Republican field in August, two of which were broadcast by Fox. In those two-hour debates -- in Florida in September and in Iowa last week -- Fox News moderators droned on for 26 minutes and 27 minutes, respectively, taking up more than 27 percent of the debate time. (Ostermeier excluded time devoted to introductions and audience questions.)
Those are the two longest entries, in both actual and percentage terms, of any of the debates. At the eight non-Fox debates, moderators never consumed more than 25 percent of the total time, and the average was 19.7 percent. (The figure for the Bloomberg News/Washington Post debate was 19.9 percent, in the middle of the pack.)
Fox's critics often focus their ire on the network's "Fair and Balanced" slogan, which should be taken about as seriously as any other slogan. (Which is to say: not very.) Ostermeier's project opens up a content-neutral line of argument for critics: It's not so much what Fox talkers say, it's that they spend too much time saying it. Then again, at least for fans of Fox News, maybe the talking is the whole point.
(Michael Newman is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)