November 1, 2015

Point/Counterpoint: The Comic Book Debate

Not unexpectedly, reaction to the CNBC GOP debate was fast and furious. Or maybe, it was furious and fast.

During the debate, the candidates themselves were quick to pounce on the moderators; a few of those reactions I included in yesterday's post, but I did save a couple.

The first is from Ted Cruz:
You know, let me say something at the outset. The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don't trust the media. This is not a cage match. And, you look at the questions - "Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain?" "Ben Carson, can you do math?" "John Kasich, will you insult two people over here?" "Marco Rubio, why don't you resign?" "Jeb! Bush why have your numbers fallen?" How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about? 
And this, from Chris Christie:
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?
The official response from the party came via a letter from RNC head Reince Priebus to Andrew Lack head of NBC, advising
I write to inform you that pending further discussion between the Republican National Committee (RNC) and our presidential campaigns, we are suspending the partnership with NBC News for the Republican primary debate at the University of Houston on February 26, 2016...
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...
What took place Wednesday night was not an attempt to give the American people a greater understanding of our candidates' policies and ideas... 
Put that in your pipe and smoke it, The Networks of NBC.

Elsewhere, the view was a little different.

John Harwood, he of the "comic book version" question to Trump, defended the way he asked the question in an appearance on On Point, a radio show from WBUR and NPR.  When asked by host Tom Ashbrook if he went "a bridge too far" with the question, here was his response (you can listen to the audio here):
No. Look, there is nobody - including the candidates on that stage - the day before John Kasich had given a speech and he said "we've got somebody who's promising to send 10 or 11 million people out of the country. That's just crazy. That is fantasy."  There is no one on that stage who actually believes that you can send those 11 million people out of the country. There is no economist who believes that you can cut taxes $10T without increasing the deficit. It is simply a set of discussions that is not connected to the real world we live in. And I felt and feel at this moment that it's appropriate to pose that to Donald Trump in that way. 
CNBC's Brian Steel, VP of communications, allowed as how
People who want to be president of the United States should be able to answer tough questions. 
Writing in the Boston Globe, columnist Jeff Jacoby noted, in reference to Cruz's "brutal takedown," that
It was a good night for Cruz and Rubio; a bad night for Bush. But the biggest loser in Boulder wasn't a candidate. It was the media.
And here's Helaine Olen, author of a couple of books on personal finance who also writes for Slate; she also arrived at the conclusion that CNBC was the biggest loser.
The main moderators  (Harwood, Quick, Quintanilla) appeared to be in a different time zone from Jim Cramer and Rick Santelli, who pitched in with a few questions. Although, come to think of it, Quintanilla may have been in a different time zone from everyone.. Were there tough questions? Sure there were more than a few... But mostly, CNBC's debate was a mess.
Olen's take on it was a bit different - she noted that regular viewers would have seen a "familiar" mess which is not exactly a confidence builder.  She also recollected Quintanilla has had other less than shining moments, such as this one:
...his performance managed to remind me almost at once that his finest moment as a journalist was when he got an interview with soon-to-be-indicted $8B Ponzi schemer Allen Stanford and asked him "Is it fun being a billionaire?"
Hmm.  Now I have to wonder, were my expectations too high to begin with?

Back to Priebus, before we go. His letter to NBC News also noted that
The RNC's sole role in the primary debate process is to ensure that our candidates are given a full and fair opportunity to lay our their vision for America's future. We simply cannot continue with NBC without full consultation with our campaigns.
That  'consultation' is going to occur tonight, with a high-powered Republican attorney facilitating things, according to the New York Times.

The article points out that there are different opinions from the camps on how to proceed, illustrating again that while it's relatively easy to rally against the media as a common enemy, it may prove harder to change something that - good, bad, or indifferent - benefits some of the candidates just as much as it marginalizes others.

Stay tuned.