I’ll admit it, I watched the entire Republican Debate. I’d like to call reconnaissance of the enemy camp. CNBC, widely recognized as “the financial network” entitled the event, “Your Money, Your Vote: The Republican Presidential Debate”. t was advertised to focus on the economy, taxes, and the national budget. The next day even Democratic observers commented that the network did a generally poor job of staging the debate. I can’t disagree, but it was the reaction of the Republican presidential candidates and the chairman of the Republican National Committee which I found the most offensive.
I consider myself somewhat of a financial policy geek, but when the debate questions actually centered on the economy, taxes, and the national budget I found myself getting bored to death. I can’t imagine the affect of those questions and answers had on the normal viewers. I mean how long can someone sit there while one candidate after another after another explains his tax plans (which wouldn’t work as described by the way) without falling into a boredom induced comma? Thirty minutes in I commented to my wife that they had already lost Republican rednecks to the World Series or professional wrestling.
(By the way I’m not being sexist by using the pronoun “he” above; Carly Fiorina didn’t seem to have a tax plan, or any another plan for that matter. The only thing she seemed to want to get across was that people have been talking about doing stuff for 40 without doing anything, and by damn she intends to do something even if it’s wrong.)
Of course the big knock on the CNBC moderators was that some of their questions were inappropriate, that they lacked substance and were, well, juvenile. Again I can’t disagree. The low point was when one of the moderators asked Jeb Bush whether fantasy football should be investigated as gambling. Hey, I’ve wondered the same thing myself, but, that question is more appropriately discussed over beers a local pub or at least in some back room at the Justice Department. The worst thing about the debate is that CNBC gave all of the Republican candidates an opportunity to bitch and moan about “liberal media bias” on a national stage and you know their conservative zealot fan base ate that up.
Yep, the debate was pretty much a train wreck, but it was the reactions of the Republican Presidential candidates the day after the debate which is the most troubling. There are confirmed reports that the various candidates and their campaign staffers have come to an agreement to try to wrest control of the debates from the Republican National Committee which here to fore has negotiated terms with the networks. Most of the candidates and their staffs plan to meet this coming Sunday to finalize their strategy. I think just about anyone can figure out where this is headed. The candidates and their staffs plan to take over the negotiations with the networks to insure that future debates meet their criteria.
The candidates seem to have a great deal of leverage with television networks. While the national audience for the CNBC debate was smaller than the previous debates on FOX and CNN, it still attacked 14 million viewers. Imagine the commercial revenue bonanza the debate produced for CNBC which usually attracts just a few hundred thousand for its regular programming. However, I suspect that the price of the concessions for which I expect the candidates to ask the privilege of hosting future debates may be too high for the networks to pay.
I fully expect that at minimum the candidates will want to choose the debate moderators. After the last debate, several said publicly that only Republicans are qualified to moderate Republican debates. However, almost certainly it won’t end there. After all Donald Trump was none too happy with the questions Megyn Kelly of the Republican mouthpiece FOX tossed his way. So it’s also highly likely that they also want to screen out any “gotya” (embarrassing) questions of that sort. I could even see Trump and company demanding to screen each and every the question in advance or even wanting to write the questions themselves. However, if the networks want to remain credible and stay in news business they will have to maintain journalist integrity and that does not include simply abandoning the asylum to the inmates.
Surely the news networks realize that they have their own significant leverage over the candidates and the Republican Party. After all, where else can the GOP get two hours of prime time television coverage with tens of millions watching for free? However, a network news department such as that of NBC loses that bargaining power if another network like CNN is willing to cave to the candidates’ demands. However, if the Republican candidates can band together in an effort to exert control the Presidential debates, then it seems fair to me for the television networks can band together to oppose this attempt of censorship and to maintain their journalistic integrity.
United the networks should say to the Republican Party and its candidates, if you want to stage your debates on any of our networks, our viewing public has a right to see how the candidates for the most important executive position in the world answer any questions posed to them, regardless of the nature of those questions. If you want to stage your debates on any of our networks these are our joint rules. If you chose not to agree to those rules, you can take your debates elsewhere. In the final analysis, the Republican candidates need the news networks more than the networks need the candidates. If the networks stick together even Donald Trump’s self proclaimed negotiating powers will have no affect on the outcome.