If it seems that South Carolina's Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham is on the Sunday morning political talk shows every other week, you're not too far off.
Twelve Sundays this year. Eighteen last year on top of 18 the year before that, according to media tabulations of who's getting the most TV face time.
Networks including CBS, Fox and CNN all have him on speed-dial. Even the Taliban pays attention when Graham sits down.
In perhaps Graham's most far-reaching appearance, he was panned by the Islamist group after his Jan. 2, 2011, showing on NBC's “Meet the Press.”
Graham used the moment to suggest that the U.S. keep at least two permanent air bases in Afghanistan, putting him in conflict with the Obama administration's goal of getting the U.S. military out of the country by the end of next year.
Three days after Graham's showing, the Taliban was irked enough to post a statement under the heading “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”
“His remarks definitely lift the curtain from the colonialist motives of America, which the Islamic Emirate has been trying in the past decade to draw to the attention of the people of the world,” the message said.
“In fact, the invading America wants to establish her dominance over the region and the world under the so-called war on terror,” the group said. “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan categorically rejects the suggestion by the Republican senator.”
Graham today remembers the appearance as an opportunity to speak to friends and foes alike.
“In the case of the Taliban, I was sending a message we weren't going to leave,” he said last week. That message was, “Your (Taliban) hopes of taking over Afghanistan aren't going to be realized.”
Nationally, Graham is widely seen as one of the leading voices of the GOP when it comes to matters of national security, whether the topic is the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, immigration, Syria or the rest of the Middle East.
But heading into the 2014 election season, Graham's schedule of appearances has become fodder for his lesser-known political opponents, some of whom say the senator's TV exposure is more like over-exposure that can agitate South Carolina interests at home.
Charleston businesswoman Nancy Mace, one of three Republicans who have said they will challenge Graham in the June 2014 GOP primary, said she's heard stories of residents expressing frustration at Graham's habitual Sunday appearances.
“If you're going on TV more than you're in the state, you question where your priorities are,” she said last week in summing up voter concerns. Also in the GOP race are Spartanburg state Sen. Lee Bright and Upstate businessman Richard Cash.
Graham counters that the shows are valuable for the state and the country in setting the pace.
“When you are on TV on Sunday,” he said, “it helps mold the opinion for the next week.”
Graham has long been a Sunday-show favorite, starting with his time in the House of Representatives during the President Bill Clinton impeachment process. When Graham went to the Senate in 2002 he replaced Strom Thurmond, who by that time was years beyond sitting for live interviews.
Today, political observers say Graham's appearances are a double-edge sword.
“Like all of network news, the Sunday talk shows have lost viewers and prestige in the digital age,” said Sid Beddingfield, a former journalist who teaches at the University of South Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications and who studies media and politics.
“Getting booked on a Sunday network show like 'Meet the Press' once signaled that a politician had entered the big leagues and was becoming a national figure,” he said. “Now, the Sunday shows are simply one among many options that lawmakers can use to deliver their message.”
The Sunday shows present a particular dilemma for Graham as a Republican, Beddingfield said.
“Nothing says 'establishment' like a regular spot on the Sunday network talk shows,” he said.
One reason Graham and Arizona Sen. John McCain have been such frequent guests, Beddingfield said, “is because they are seen as bridges between the two parties, at least on certain issues such as immigration.”
Building those bridges, partially through his TV appearances, has made Graham a target of tea party supporters and some conservatives in his own party.
Last week, two tea party groups held local events criticizing him. One of the events featured a photo of Graham and host Bob Schieffer from a “Face the Nation” appearance.
While Graham's TV frequency numbers have become fodder for the anti-Graham wing of the GOP, Graham does have some defenders, among them Schieffer, the longtime TV host and political reporter.
Schieffer, the CBS News chief Washington correspondent and “Face the Nation,” anchor, spoke highly during an interview last month of Graham and McCain as articulate, legitimate and informed sources for the audience.
“They go to the scene, they are like reporters,” said Schieffer, pointing to trips to Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt the pair have done. “They are the people that have news.”
Schieffer credits Graham for being able to speak simply and clearly about Washington — not sticking to the talking points and scripts that so many others from inside the D.C. Beltway do during their moments on screen.
“He's figured out that if you give clear answers, people will call you and ask you questions,” Schieffer said.
Schieffer credits Graham and McCain for showing up knowing the questions aren't going to be softballs.
“You can actually get them on the phone when the news is not going their way,” he said.
Graham, who last week returned from a week-long security trip to Africa, said he sees continued value in being on the air Sundays.
Besides, he said, “they call me. I don't call them.”
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