Why CNBC’s debate fiasco fuels the case that journalists hate Republicans

Posted by on Oct 30, 2015 at 7:33 am

Turns out I’m not the only one who thought the CNBC debate moderators turned in a cringe-worthy performance.

Just about everyone said it sucked.

Salon: “CNBC just set the standard for catastrophic debate performances.”

Slate: “A debate that the network hoped could revive its mojo only revealed how over the hill it truly is.”

Yahoo: “This will go down as the debate that unified the Republican field… in its common contempt for the CNBC moderators.”

The business network drew its largest audience ever, 14 million viewers, and many of them undoubtedly came away with a negative view of CNBC’s fairness.

But there are some larger lessons here about television, campaign coverage and the inevitable tensions between journalists and politicians.

I believe in tough and provocative questions. Sometimes they are going to be unpopular, especially before a partisan audience.

I know the Fox News moderators generated some strong resentment for the Cleveland debate, particularly from those who love Donald Trump. But in my view even the most provocative questions were based on substance: Bret Baier asking Trump if he’d agree not to run as an independent, Megyn Kelly quoting his past demeaning remarks about women.

By contrast, the CNBC crew was more personal, seemingly arguing with the candidates as if it was just another edition of “Squawk Box.” When John Harwood asked Trump if he were running a “comic book” campaign, when he said Trump had a better chance of “flying away” from the podium than making his tax plan work, those came off as insults.

And where’s the policy substance in Harwood asking Mike Huckabee whether Trump has the “moral authority” to lead the country? Huckabee wouldn’t play, and Trump deemed the question “nasty.”

When Carl Quintanilla kept pressing Ben Carson about his ties to a medical company and wouldn’t accept his answers, the audience erupted in boos.

No wonder Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie unloaded on the questioners.

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