Politico reported Friday that the Republican National Committee has canceled plans to partner with NBC News for a primary debate in February. The RNC cited a “bad faith” performance by CNBC in Wednesday’s evening debate.
“The CNBC network is one of your media properties, and its handling of the debate was conducted in bad faith,” Priebus wrote. “We understand that NBC does not exercise full editorial control over CNBC’s journalistic approach. However, the network is an arm of your organization, and we need to ensure there is not a repeat performance.”
“CNBC billed the debate as one that would focus on “the key issues that matter to all voters—job growth, taxes, technology, retirement and the health of our national economy.” That was not the case. Before the debate, the candidates were promised an opening question on economic or financial matters. That was not the case. Candidates were promised that speaking time would be carefully monitored to ensure fairness. That was not the case. Questions were inaccurate or downright offensive. The first question directed to one of our candidates asked if he was running a comic book version of a presidential campaign, hardly in the spirit of how the debate was billed.”
Read the full letter here.
Priebus said that while the RNC expected “tough questions” in the debate, CNBC moderators were mainly interested in “gotcha” questions, “petty and mean-spirited in tone,” that were designed to embarrass the candidates.
“I have tremendous respect for the First Amendment and freedom of the press,” he said. “However, I also expect the media to host a substantive debate on consequential issues important to Americans.”
CNBC has been broadly criticized for how it handled the debate. The Washington Post called it “CNBC’s really bad debate night.” Twitter was flooded with remarks bashing CNBC and the moderators. Even Stephen Colbert devoted a segment to the bad performance.
It is curious though that Priebus would call CNBC out for “gotcha questions” and the absence of a “substantive debate” since that is what many of these debates turn out to be. The spat between Megyn Kelly and Donald Trump in the first debate was hardly a moment of substantive back and forth.
Does the mass media not mostly define these so-called debates by the “gotcha” moments? Priebus is right, the American people deserve more substance. They deserve real debates. Yet the only time the parties seem concerned about the quality of debates is when it might embarrass their candidates.