And the award goes to CNBC! It’s not uncommon for moderators of political debates to take flak for allowing their ideological biases to show through — think Candy Crowley in the 2012 presidential debate — but this may be the first time that an entire network was assailed for its bumbling performance. “Before the candidates even took the stage at Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate,” writes the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake, “the network hosting the debate was getting pilloried on social media.”
As the 8 o’clock Eastern start time came and went, CNBC’s pre-debate pundits kept droning on. And on. And on. It wasn’t clear why. There was no countdown clock on the screen or indication of when the show might begin.
Which is not to say that the moderators didn’t take (deservedly) their lumps once the debate got underway. Notes Blake, “The candidates took turns ragging on the moderators for their questions and quibbled with their premises and facts.”
But the high point of the evening (or low point, depending on your own ideological slant) came when candidate Ted Cruz unloaded on the moderators. It followed this question by Carl Quintanilla:
Congressional Republicans, Democrats and the White House are about to strike a compromise that would raise the debt limit, prevent a government shutdown, and calm financial markets of the fear that a Washington crisis is on the way. Does your opposition to it show you’re not the kind of problem-solver that American voters want?
This question was essentially a variation of the schoolyard taunt, “Are you the only member of your family who eats [synonym for excrement] sandwiches?”
Cruz’s answer, which is worth watching (a video clip of the exchange follows), begins:
The questions asked in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. This is not a cage match.
The applause Cruz received from the live audience was not the only such reaction. Cruz also earned the praise of a few of unlikely bedfellows:
I hate Ted Cruz with the power of a million chainsaws revving but I agree with everything he just said. #GOPDebate
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) October 29, 2015
oh my god did i just hear Ted Cruz say something awesome that i agree with? Yes. The media is even stupider than the pols. Who's on first?
— Bill Maher (@billmaher) October 29, 2015
CNBC has the right idea. You can't just let candidates at a debate actually debate. Next thing you know they'll be articulating differences.
— Matt Bai (@mattbai) October 29, 2015
Ultimately, Quintanilla got back at Cruz by telling him that his time allotment for answering the question he had asked had lapsed, but this just made Quintanilla look petulant in addition to biased.
It is high time that the format for presidential debates be changed, starting with an end to the bidding wars among networks eager to host the event.