If you watched CNBC’s Republican Debate on October 28th or heard about some of the outrage that has arisen from participating candidates, the RNC, and conservative viewers, you probably know that it was not exactly a huge success for CNBC. Both liberal and conservative thinkers weighed in on the issue, and each perspective is worth reading to get a taste of where each side is coming from.
In general, Americans think that most media sources are left-leaning. If that is the case, were the moderators and questions at CNBC’s debate objectively biased against the Republican candidates?
The moderators of the debate were CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla, Becky Quick, and John Harwood, with appearances from other CNBC pundits Jim Cramer and Rick Santelli. Their backgrounds and political views are varied. Harwood does indeed tend to have a notable left-leaning outlook, as can be seen in portions of this opinion piece by Mollie Hemingway for the conservative publication The Federalist. Quintanilla and Quick, on the other hand, don’t have clear political ideologies beyond their preference for certain pro-business policies that fall generally in line with many conservatives. Jim Cramer has said that he is a Democrat, but he is also a hated figure to many liberals after being absolutely pummeled by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show in 2009 regarding CNBC’s irresponsible reporting during the financial crisis, as well as for equating Barack Obama’s economic policy with Russian Communists. Rick Santelli, on the other hand, is a conservative whose “Chicago Tea Party” rant in 2009 is sometimes credited with helping to inspire the Tea Party political movement.
Ted Cruz earned some major political points among conservatives when he bashed the moderators’ combative questions and the media as a whole. In some cases, he was justified in being upset. Some of the questions posed during the opening portion of the debate did indeed seem intended to create controversy and strife between the candidates. John Harwood asking Donald Trump if he was running “a comic book version of a presidential campaign” was ridiculous. John Kasich was prompted to identify whom he was referring to when he characterized some of his rivals’ proposals as “crazy”, which was a poorly veiled attempt to stir infighting among the candidates that characterized large portions of the first two debates. However, there were also several questions that Cruz mischaracterized that were actually substantive and relevant (see some point-by-point, left-leaning perspective counter arguments by Vox). It is flatly unconvincing that these were instances of liberal bias. Call me an acolyte of Jon Stewart, but it seems more like the typical media bias towards sensationalism.
The Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus laid out a series of concerns in an open letter to NBC, citing “gotcha” questions and a failure to live up to the promises outlined in their contract, specifically a debate focused on economic policy and guarantees of equal time for the candidates. From this angle, his claims are entirely legitimate. The moderators on several occasions challenged candidates on issues that didn’t directly relate to economic policy. Especially damaging to their credibility were occasions in which they seemed underprepared, even in instances where they were correct, but unable to backup their claims when Trump or Rubio refuted them. They also failed in their duty to merely facilitate conversation between the candidates, instead inserting themselves as personalities in the debate.
Some of the candidates used the controversy to rile up the base with claims that the Democratic debates were, in comparison, thrown softball questions during their debates. Rubio claimed that “Democrats have the ultimate Super PAC, it’s called the mainstream media.” Cruz implored the audience to “contrast [this event] with the Democratic debate, where every thought and question from the media was, ‘Which of you is more handsome and wise?’” Statements like these are very popular and very damaging to a debate because they feed the narrative of bias that Cruz pushed at the very beginning. It is easy to see things through the lens of persecution after such a narrative is promoted.
Foremost was the assertion that the mainstream media is easy on Hillary. Quite frankly, I find that hard to believe, considering how harmful the press has been to her campaign. What was once an enthusiastic base of support and a stranglehold on the Democratic nomination has weakened after months of Benghazi and email scandal storylines lingering in the news. At least she can rely on softball questions like “Will you say anything to get elected?” from Anderson Cooper and his pro-Hillary cronies on the way to her coronation (note to any conspiracy-theory-prone readers: that was sarcasm).