In Latest Republican Debate, the Media Come Away as Losers

Let’s face it — the latest Republican debate, broadcast Oct. 28 on CNBC, was another flop. I would argue that it wasn’t the candidates’ doing, however, but rather the moderators’ pathetic attempts at “grilling,” which even drew boos from the audience.

The debate was filled with several questions surrounding tax policies, immigration reform and tackling the massive national debt. But the biggest loser was the liberal media.

In the first two GOP debates, the candidates struggled to draw attention away from businessman Donald Trump’s polarization of not only the American public, but also the moderators. The second debate, on Sept. 16, was called a “mudslinging contest” by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, as a vast majority of the questions only asked candidates to  respond to slights from other campaigns.

Many Republicans, including myself, were interested to see how this debate would turn out, especially when current front-runner Benjamin “Ben” Carson finally toppled Trump in the polls. There was even speculation that Trump and Carson planned to boycott the debate due to dissatisfaction with its planned format.

Ten candidates participated in the debate: Trump, Carson, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. The moderators were CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla, Becky Quick and John Harwood.

Despite the dry pre-debate commentary, the session opened with an interesting question from Quintanilla: “This series of debates is essentially a job interview with the American people. And in any job interview, you know this: you get asked, ‘What’s your biggest weakness?’” But it all went downhill from there.

Once more, Carson was asked about his involvement with Mannatech, a maker of nutritional supplements that claims to cure autism and cancer and recently settled a $7 million dispute in Texas over deceptive marketing. Carson replied as he had in the last debate regarding this issue, saying that while he took and enjoyed the product, he never validated or endorsed such statements and never had a relationship with the corporation — and any statements stating otherwise were propaganda. Quintanilla then asked why Carson was featured on Mannatech’s homepage, and Carson replied this was done without his permission. Quintanilla asked Carson if that reflected poorly on his judgment. A vast majority of the audience booed.

As for Rubio, he critiqued the mainstream media in his statements, calling it the Democrats’ “ultimate super PAC,” because it reported that last week was the greatest week in Hillary Clinton’s campaign, despite her testimony before the Benghazi committee that same week.

But without a doubt, the best moment of the debate came from Christie, when Quintanilla asked Bush whether or not the government should consider fantasy football to be gambling. After Bush flip-flopped on his answer, Christie shouted, “Carl, are we really talking about getting government involved in fantasy football? We have — wait a second, we have $19 trillion in debt. We have people out of work. We have ISIS and al Qaeda attacking us. And we’re talking about fantasy football? Can we stop?” 

I can live with a few “gotcha” questions every now and then, but a debate full of them? I’d rather not see that. It’s hard to deny the stark difference in the questions given to both parties, and it finally seems the Republican National Committee (RNC) has had enough.

The RNC says it is suspending its February debate with NBC News amid anger over CNBC’s handling of its debate. Reince Priebus, chairman of the RNC, wrote in an open letter on Oct. 30 to Andrew Lack, chairman of NBC News, that after the debate with CNBC was “conducted in bad faith,” further debates with NBC’s networks will be suspended until the campaigns are consulted with.

Priebus said that despite the promise of questions regarding job growth, technology and retirement, CNBC failed to keep its “guaranteed standards.” He went on to say that many of the questions were either “inaccurate or downright offensive,” and that while “debates are meant to include tough questions and contrast candidates’ visions and policies,” CNBC’s moderators asked questions that were “petty and mean-spirited in tone and designed to embarrass our candidates.”

Priebus said that while the RNC is suspending its partnership with NBC, it still intends to have a debate as scheduled on Feb. 26. NBC said it will “work in good faith to resolve this matter.”

Maybe this will be a good wake-up call for NBC to get its act together and actually ask substantive questions worth the candidates’ time. I would love to see a real debate where the candidates can lay out their platforms, receive equal time and answer questions the American public truly cares about. I suppose I’ll just wait for Hillary Clinton’s answer regarding her emails in the meantime.

Kierstan Thomas is a contributing columnist.

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