By Ken Tucker
Updated July 13, 2012 at 12:00 PM EDT

Until now, Mitt Romney hasn’t granted interviews to many TV news outlets other than Fox News. But on Friday night, he was interviewed by ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox News. His purpose was to blitz-address recent questions about when he ceased any activity as a participant in Bain Capital. Romney says he left the company in 1999, but reporting in numerous places including The Boston Globe has uncovered documents noting that he was listed as the chairman and CEO through 2002. It’s an interesting question, since the answer goes to whether Romney was engaged in any of Bain’s activities in outsourcing jobs after 1999 that resulted in the unemployment of hundreds of Americans. But watching the interviews, I was struck once again at how close-to-useless the nightly new broadcasts of ABC, NBC, and CBS are: They devoted little time to the discrepancies cited above, but instead used most of their precious little time with Romney asking why President Obama’s campaign was asking questions about the discrepancies. In other words, instead of covering the news, what we used to call the “big three” networks covered the horse race, goading Romney into attacking the President and his campaign staff.

ABC’s coverage was easily the skimpiest, with Jonathan Karl asking a few questions about the Obama campaign’s tactics, listening patiently while Romney said he left Bain Capital in 1999 to run the Salt Lake City Olympics, and then wasting valuable time to ask Romney about something else entirely: Whether he thought the uniforms American athletes will wear in the upcoming Olympics should have been manufactured in America instead of China. (He officially has no comment.)

NBC’s Peter Alexander got a wee bit more air-time but also tilted the interview toward the question of why the Obama campaign was asking the Bain questions.

Because, you know, news producers know from poll after poll that Americans hate “negative campaigning,” and so they spur their correspondents to cover the tenor of the campaign rather than the content of what the campaigners are actually saying.

CBS’ Jan Crawford was easily the most aggressive questioner of these three. Yes, she got the same denials Romney gave to all five networks — “I did not manage Bain after February 1999” — but at least she pressed him by asking, “Doesn’t the buck stop with you?” That is, when he was listed as the chairman, CEO, and “100% sole owner of Bain Capital.” And while Crawford succumbed to the do-you-think-the-Obama-campaign-is-being-mean-to-you angle, she at least elicited the most dramatic response in this regard.

Asked by Crawford whether he thinks President Obama owes him a personal apology for raising these questions, Romney said, “Absolutely! My goodness! … What kind of a President has a campaign that says something like that?”

Well, one thing’s for sure: Absolutely-my goodness, you’d do better to read a newspaper to get your information about Bain Capital than to watch the broadcast nightly news.

Twitter: @kentucker