How bad were CNBC’s debate moderators last night? So bad that they were ridiculed by even their liberal colleagues. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo called out “perhaps the most comically poor debate prep we’ve ever seen in a national debate. Are these folks even journalists?” Adam Nagourney of the New York Times asked mid-debate: “Would it be hard to do a panel swap-out during the break? Is Jake Tapper or Chris Wallace in the wings?” Think Progress, which almost functions as Hillary’s personal blog, admitted the debate “was kind of a train wreck.”
Then there was the bias. Usually liberal journalists are far better at hiding their biases than CNBC’s inept and sneering moderators at last night’s debate. Questions asked in an insulting tone, interruptions of candidates in mid-sentence, injections of personal opinion, and shouting down candidates attempting to defend themselves.
CNBC began the evening full of bravado, showcasing its “star” panelists and then allowing them to deliver vapid commentary on the debate for 15 minutes before the debate started. It ended almost trying to pretend the debate never happened. CNBC quickly switched to a rerun of a show called “Profit,” appropriate since their show could have been called “Loss.” As of this writing, CNBC moderators John Harwood, Carl Quintinella, and Becky Quick have been completely silent on their Twitter accounts except for a single odd retweet from Harwood.
There were bizarre low points. Harwood went after the income distribution of tax cuts in Marco Rubio’s tax plan and directly disputed Rubio’s contention that Harwood had raised the same issue two weeks ago and had to correct himself. But indeed, Harwood had.
Becky Quick admitted she was unsure of Donald Trump’s stance on high-skill immigrant visas after he pushed back on her question about it. She first claimed that Trump had criticized Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for wanting more H-1B visas for immigrants. Trump denied it, and Quick caved and admitted her own confusion.“Where did I come up with this?” she asked, “That you were…?”
Trump interrupted: “I don’t know. You people write this stuff.”
Quick then also backtracked on accusing Trump of calling Marco Rubio “Mark Zuckerburg’s personal senator,” after Trump said he “never said that.” She even apologized to Trump. But Trump was either bluffing or hadn’t read his own immigration plan. The statement about Zuckerberg and Rubio is right there on Trump’s campaign website. Quick noted that later in the debate — but not nearly quickly enough.
I’ve watched a lot of debates in which liberal media bias has been evident. But I have never seen it unite Republican presidential candidates like it did last night. They rose up in revolt and called out the moderators for it — led by Ted Cruz and followed effectively by Rubio, Christie, and Trump. It was an epic moment, and I think it rattled the cages of mainstream media types everywhere. Look for better-behaved, more restrained, and more prepared moderators in future debates regardless of the network involved. There is an alternative. Ben Carson’s campaign staff has already warned they are thinking of breaking free of the RNC’s debate straightjacket, gathering a bunch of candidates and finding their own debut venue where they have input on the rules of engagement.