During Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate, candidates tore into the biased CNBC moderators. Anticipating a slew of gotcha’ questions and attempts to cause infighting, the Republicans came to this debate prepared.
Sen. Ted Cruz accused the moderators of trying to instigate a cage match, Sen. Marco Rubio called the media a super PAC for Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump slammed the “ridiculous questions.”
As the first question directed towards Mr. Trump, CNBC anchor John Harwood asked ‘Is this a comic-book version of a presidential campaign?’. Such frivolous questions were the theme for then night.
Finally Ted Cruz had enough. “The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” Cruz said. “This is not a cage match.” From there, he listed the questions candidate were asked and said, “How about talking about the substantive issues people care about?” The crowd exploded with applause.
Two factors are at play here. As we saw with the media sponsored inauguration of Hillary Clinton/the Democratic debate (and the ensuing ratings), a lack of infighting doesn’t draw viewers. There is a reason for the UFC’s popularity; people like to watch a fight. Questions where one candidate is pitted against another make for good ratings. If the majority of the CNBC audience are Democrats, insulting Republicans makes for good ratings. More than personal intent or partisan bias, the decision boils down to making money.
Secondly, as Ted Cruz said, none of the moderators will be voting in the Republican primaries. A completely Democratic set of moderators for any debate, Republican and Democrat alike, is not fair to the American people. How can only presenting one side of an argument consistitute a fair media?
If we want a debate on the issues, we need to eliminate both the partisan nature and the requirements to obtain substantial ratings. If a bi-partisan debate was featured on a public broadcast channel, and the candidates were asked nothing but policy questions and hypothetical scenarios – with directions not to go after other candidates – many would never tune into the debate. This might be a necessary trade-off to obtain fair elections.