NEW YORK — From late-night comedy shows to cable news interviews, free media exposure has proved influential in defining the Republican presidential candidates and setting the dynamics of the primary race, especially for lower-tier hopefuls lacking cash for TV ads.
The turn toward free media, and Twitter, too, may have come at the expense of traditional campaigning. It also raises the chances that a moment of fuzzy thinking or a verbal gaffe will haunt a candidate in the YouTube world.
"It's smart, especially for those who don't have much money," American University political communications professor Leonard Steinhorn says. "But there's also a reality show quality to it all, with the kind of visual moments people don't forget."
There have been many such moments.
During one debate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry couldn't remember the third of three agencies he wants to eliminate as president. A video of a Wisconsin newspaper editorial board session showed Herman Cain struggling to answer questions about Libya; the display of unpreparedness helped speed his exit from the race.
Fox News has been the go-to venue for the candidates. Six of them attended a forum hosted by Mike Huckabee last weekend and were questioned by three Republican state attorneys general. Cain made regular appearances to defend himself against allegations of sexual impropriety; his wife, Gloria, did her sole campaign interview with Fox.
Sunday morning shows have also drawn frequent appearances from the candidates. Several candidates were booked today: Texas Rep. Ron Paul on NBC's Meet the Press, Michele Bachmann on CBS's Face the Nation, Perry on Fox News Sunday and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman on This Week on ABC.