10 Ethics Observations On The CNBC Republican Presidential Candidates Debate


The transcipt is here.

1. Seldom are the  verdicts on a presidential debate as near unanimous as those on last night’s CNBC affair, in which Gov. John Kasich, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, Gov. Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen.Ted Cruz, and Sen. Rand Paul took loaded questions from the CNBC panel of Becky Quick, John Harwood, and Carl Quintanilla. The questions and interjections from the moderators were so hostile, so disrespectful, so obviously concocted from a biased perspective, that the criticism came from all sides of the political spectrum.

Mostly the work of the CNBC trio was just unprofessional. The rules seemed arbitrary, the three talked over each other, they neither commanded nor deserved the participant’s cooperation. It was, correctly, called the smoking gun of news media bias, and a terrific honesty, fairness and integrity test for anyone watching. If you did and still say that it didn’t stench of a hostile exercise in media bias, then you lack all three. It was an embarrassment for CNBC and journalism.

2. Ironically, though the moderators were terrible, it arguably was the best debate yet for the Republicans. The hapless trio actually gave Sen. Ted Cruz a chance to show that you tangle with him at your peril, and to display his impressive mind and speaking ability. He said…

“Let me say something at the outset. The questions asked 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 contrast with the Democratic debate, where every thought and question from the media was, which of you is more handsome and why? Let me be clear: The men and women on this stage have more ideas, more experience, more common sense, than every participant in the Democratic debate. That debate reflected a debate between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. Nobody believes that the moderators have any intention of voting in a Republican primary. The questions being asked shouldn’t be trying to get people to tear into each other, it should be what are your substantive solutions to people at home.”

Bingo. Cruz’s perfectly delivered reprimand is being sloughed off by many in the press as a repeat of Newt Gingrich’s trick, in the 2012 debates, of routinely beating up on moderators regardless of what they asked. This, in contrast, was fair, accurate, as perfectly delivered as it was impressive. I had followed the debate closely, and I wouldn’t have been able to run down the list of hostile questions like that without checking notes. Cruz is probably the smartest candidate in the race. Too bad he’s a rigid ideologue and a demagogue with the charisma of a chain saw.

3. CNN’s comment on the Cruz slap-down: “Here’s an attack all Republicans can love.” This means, I suppose, that only Republicans care about having a news media that isn’t trying to manipulate national elections. That conclusion should offend all Democrats—unless, of course, it is true. The desire to have an unbiased and competent news media should not be a partisan issue.

4. After Cruz mentioned the Mensheviks,  “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd tweeted…


It is no joke that the journalist who hosts the premiere network public affairs show apparently never took a world history class and is completely ignorant of  of the political history of Russia. Or is it worse that he doesn’t even know that his tweet demonstrates political illiteracy?

5. Props are due to a debate  audience that was measured in its responses in sharp contrast to the mindless cheering section during the Democratic debate. It sounded like a mob.

6. Marco Rubio has been given praise for his answer to Jeb Bush when the latter made exactly the same point I made yesterday, that Rubio has no excuse for missing votes in the Senate. “Marco,” Bush said, “when you signed up for this, this is a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work.” Rubio’s supposedly withering retort, now being said to be the final nail on Bush’s coffin and the spr1ngboard for Rubio’s campaign, was to run off the names of other previous Republican Senators, like John McCain in 2008, who missed votes.

His answer was crap.

It was like the gotcha game regularly played by Media Matters on the left and News Busters on the right: “X journalist criticized Y’s unethical conduct but ignored similarly unethical conduct by Z who is in Y’s party’s adversary party.” Does this claim make Rubio more ethical in any way? No. If Jeb had any wit and could think on his feet, which he evidently doesn’t and can’t, he would have slammed Rubio by saying something like..

‘That’s right, Marco, and it’s because John hadn’t announced that he was missing votes because, as you were quoted as saying in the Washington Post, ‘because I am leaving the Senate. I am not running for reelection.’  John McCain even suspended his campaign to return to Washington when the sub-prime mortgage market crashed. He was still a Senator first. You have announced that you’re not bothering to be one any more. You should resign.’

Rubio’s “brilliant” rejoinder was just a rationalization: “Everybody does it.” There’s nothing brilliant about that—a 6-year-old might use it.

7. John Harwood seemed to think, along with his colleagues, that his job was to be in the debate rather than moderate it. This statement for example to Trump…

HARWOOD: I talked to economic advisers who have served presidents of both parties. They said that you have as chance of cutting taxes that much without increasing the deficit as you would of flying away from that podium by flapping your arms.

…is inexcusably nasty. Would Harwood dare speak to President Obama or a Democratic Senator like that, in a tone dripping with contempt? The moderators seemed determine to be rude: after he interrupted Chris Christie, the N.J. Governor delivered a zinger:

CHRISTIE: No, John. John, do you want me to answer or do you want to answer? How are we going to do this? Because, I’ve got to tell you the truth, even in New Jersey what you’re doing is called rude. So…

Later, Harwood challenged Donald Trump‘s account of negotiating CNBC into shortening the debate from three hours to two “so we could get out of here.” (Trump was in good form.) Harwood contradicted Trump “after the bell”  when his final statement had ended, a late hit, and a dishonest one:

HARWOOD: Just for the record, the debate was always going to be two hours. Senator Rubio?

TRUMP: That’s not right. That is absolutely not right. You know that. That is not right.

Trump was right, Harwood was wrong, in which case he should have shut up, or lying. The drama of Trump and Carson threatening to pull out if the debate time wasn’t reduced was thoroughly documented.

8. Perhaps Harwood was banking on the fact that The Donald isn’t exactly trustworthy either. Trump was asked whether he ever referred to Rubio as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s “personal Senator.” “I never said that, I never said that,” Trump said. “Somebody’s really doing some bad fact-checking.”
That is exactly what appears on Trump’s campaign website in a section about immigration reform proposals:

“Raising the prevailing wage paid to H-1Bs will force companies to give these coveted entry-level jobs to the existing domestic pool of unemployed native and immigrant workers in the U.S., instead of flying in cheaper workers from overseas. This will improve the number of black, Hispanic and female workers in Silicon Valley who have been passed over in favor of the H-1B program. Mark Zuckerberg’s personal Senator, Marco Rubio, has a bill to triple H-1Bs that would decimate women and minorities.”

Trump also lied to counter Gov. Kasich’s assertions about his economic success in Ohio, falsely saying that fracking was the driver of Ohio’s success. This is exactly the kind of ambush lie that is so effective in debates (Hillary Clinton’s a master of it). In fact, the economic boom in Ohio has been fueled by automobiles and plastics, but there is no way to correct such misinformation in a debate format. Trump defused Kasich’s strong—and true–assertion that he was the most experienced and successful state executive on the stage, but Trump’s tactic made Trump look good to most viewers.

It tells me how sleazy he really is.

9. Included in Kasich’s first statement, the first of the debate by any candidate, was critical point wise and true, that would qualify as a wake-up call for the GOP voters who favor Trump or Carson:

“…we are on the verge, perhaps, of picking someone who cannot do this job.I’ve watched to see people say that we should dismantle Medicare and Medicaid and leave the senior citizens out — out in the — in the cold. I’ve heard them talk about deporting 10 or 11 — people here from this country out of this country, splitting families. I’ve heard about tax schemes that don’t add up, that put our kids in — in a deeper hole than they are today….”

It won’t wake anyone up however, because most voters in both parties don’t understand the job, what it entails, its powers, or the components of effective national leadership. Carson and Trump are major party candidates with the fewest relevant qualifications for the Presidency within memory. The closest I can find is…Barack Obama. At least the ignorant voters won’t be able to say they weren’t warned

Speaking of Kasich, his twitchy, unsettled speaking style indicts his judgment and professionalism. He’s hard to watch or listen too. Like Ben Carson, whose speaking style is also amateurish, Kasich should know that communication skills are key to the job he seeks, and to politics generally. Why hasn’t he addressed this? As a speaking coach and stage director, I would take literally no more than two hours to make him twice as effective, and there are thousands of professionals who could do as well. For example, Kasich keeps saying “Guess what?” That’s a bad habit and a verbal tick, like John McCain habitually saying “My friends…” (ARRRRRGHHH!) and Bob Dole referring to himself in the third person. It is so easily fixed.

10. I could not believe it, but moderator Becky Quick actually used the old, fake, misleading “77%” statistic in her question about economic progress for women. Can this bogus stat never be killed? It was used by CNN’s Bernie Shaw in a 1992 debate, and it was wrong then. It has entered the realm of a Big Lie, and journalists, feminists and Democrats who use it are Big Liars, as Washington Post Factchecker Glenn Kessler showed in 2013.

But maybe at least Quick knows about the Mensheviks…



73 thoughts on “10 Ethics Observations On The CNBC Republican Presidential Candidates Debate

  1. I can’t resist pointing out that Cruz’s crowd-delighting anti-press tirade which you admiringly cite was a complete non sequitur in response to a legitimate question–his position on the debt limit. A perfectly right question in a debate nominally about finance and economics.

    Cruz was the norm. The panel delighted in refusing to answer questions, and generally behaving like unruly teenagers. CNBC is to blame all right–for not having anticipated the bald-faced lying that got put out there.

    But strangest of all to me, is that 10 years ago – heck, even five years ago – CNBC was the home of the right wing. Rick Santelli started the Tea Party from CNBC, for crying out loud, and you can still hear Joe Kernan bloviate about supply side economics like it was 1982.

    But last night, in that stage, suddenly CNBC was a card-carrying member of the “main stream media,” right up there with CNN and MSNBC. On Twitter, the anti media shark fest even includes Fox in the MSM crowd.

    Who moved? Not me, not CNBC. It’s the rabid right, going ever more to the far side, that has moved, and the clowns in that stage pretty much fed the meal to the Sharks.

    All I can say is, go study what happened to Robespierre.

      • Charles, facing the prospect of a Machiavellian, possibly criminal, serial and compulsive liar as the standard bearer for his corrupt favorite party, is understandably upset. As Van Johnson said about Captain Queeg, “He’ll come around…he has to!”

            • And Jose Ferrer got as drunk as a skunk!

              The truth is that NBC and its misbegotten sisters has devolved into the worst of the worst when it comes to leftist driven propaganda. CBS is now a lesser evil, with Rather and Mapes disgraced (despite a new movie that seeks to redeem them!) and with Uncle Walt safely dead.

              BTW: Rick Santelli just got mad on air and let his audience understand how things really were and why. Does anyone truly believe that his fateful moment was sanctioned by the producers and that CNBC was then or ever was “the home of the right wing”?? Give me a break, already!

      • “In terms of public policy John F. Kennedy was more “rabid right” than any candidate on that stage last night.”

        In what way?

        • On economics:
          “This administration is pledged to a Federal revenue system that balances the budget over the years of the economic cycle – yielding surpluses for debt retirement in times of high employment that more than offset the deficits which accompany – and indeed help overcome – low levels of economic activity in poor years…Debt retirement at high employment contributes to economic growth by releasing savings for productive investment by private enterprise and State and local governments.” JFK

          “By removing tax roadblocks to new jobs and new growth,” he declared, “the enactment of this measure next year will eventually more than make up in new revenue all that it will initially cost.” JFK

          “I see no magic to tax dollars which are sent to Washington then returned,” he continued, smartly summarizing the voodoo economics of Keynesianism. “I do not favor state compulsion when voluntary individual effort can do the job and do it well.” JFK

          “To increase demand and lift our economy,” he said in 1962, “the Federal Government’s most useful role is not to rush into a program of excessive increases in public expenditures, but to expand the incentives and opportunities for private expenditures….the greatest danger is a tax cut too little or too late to be effective.” JFK

          “If it is in the public interest to maintain an industry, it is clearly not in the public interest by the impact of regulatory authority to destroy its otherwise viable way of life.” JFK

          “We want prosperity and in a free enterprise system there can be no prosperity without profit. We want a growing economy and there can be no growth without the investment that is inspired and financed by profit. We want to maintain our natural security and other essential programs and we will have little revenue to finance them unless there is profit. We want to improve our balance of payments without reducing our commitments abroad, and we cannot increase our export surplus, which we must, without modernizing our plants through profit…In short, our primary challenge is not how to divide the economic pie, but how to enlarge it.” JFK

          On Government Power:

          “The ever expanding power of the federal government, the absorption of many of the functions that states and cities once considered to be the responsibilities of their own, must now be a source of concern to all those who believe as did the Irish Patriot, Henry Grattan: ‘Control over local affairs is the essence of liberty.’” JFK

          On the American character:

          “The American character has been not only religious, idealistic, and patriotic, but because of these it has been essentially individual.” JFK

          On religion:

          “I say this not because I believe Christianity is a weapon in the present world struggle, but because I believe religion itself is at the root of the struggle, not in terms of the physical organizations of Christianity versus those of Atheism, but in terms of Good versus Evil, right versus wrong… Our minds, like the headlines of our newspapers, are intent upon the present and future conflicts of armed might, and upon the brutal, physical side of that ominous war upon which we have bestowed the strange epithet “cold”. We tend to forget the moral and spiritual issues which inhere in the fateful encounter of which the physical war is but one manifestation. We tend to forget those ideals and faiths and philosophical needs which drive men far more intensively than military and economic objectives.” JFK

          “Communist rulers do not fear the phraseology of religion, or the ceremonies and churches and denomination organizations. On the contrary, they leave no stone unturned in seeking to turn these aspects of religion to their own advantage and to use the trappings of religion in order to cement the obedience of their people. What they fear is the profound consequences of a religion that is lived and not merely acknowledged. They fear especially man’s response to spiritual and ethical stimuli, not merely material. A society which seeks to make the worship of the State the ultimate objective of life cannot permit a higher loyalty, a faith in God, a belief in a religion that elevates the individual, acknowledges his true value and teaches him devotion and responsibility to something beyond the here and now. The communist fear Christianity more as a way of life than as a weapon. In short, there is room in a totalitarian system for churches- but there is no room for God. The claim of the State most be total, and no other loyalty, and no other philosophy of life can be tolerated.” JFK

          On Cuba:

          “Nixon recalled it in his memoir, after their first televised presidential debate, “Kennedy conveyed the image — to 60 million people — that he was tougher on Castro and communism than I was.” In the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy ordered a blockade, disregarding the advice of more dovish advisers such as McGeorge Bundy, Adlai Stevenson and Robert Lovett.” Ira Stoll

          On the Peace Corps and the Soviet Union

          “Even Kennedy’s signature initiatives, the Peace Corps and the effort to send a man to the moon, are best understood as Cold War efforts to best the Soviet Union in the frontiers of the developing world and of space. As Kennedy said in one tape-recorded meeting about the NASA budget: “Everything that we do really ought to be tied into getting onto the moon and ahead of the Russians … Otherwise we shouldn’t be spending this kind of money, because I’m not that interested in space.”” Ira Stoll

          On Abortion and Gay rights:
          Kennedy appointed two of the Supreme Court justices who dissented against Roe v. Wade. William Rehnquist and Byron White were the only two justices who dissented against the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that found women had the constitutional right to an abortion. White also wrote the majority opinion in Bowers v. Hardwick, refusing to strike down a Georgia law against sodomy.

          In 1960 Kennedy was asked, “Do you see any hope at all of slowing up the rate of population increase?”
          He answered “Now, on the question of limiting population: As you know the Japanese have been doing it very vigorously, through abortion, which I think would be repugnant to all Americans.” JFK

          On national defense:

          During Kennedy’s term the defense budget rose 20%, spending increases were mostly military.
          He was proud that he had “doubled the number of nuclear weapons available in the strategic alert forces” as well as “increased the tactical nuclear forces deployed in Europe by over 60%.” JFK

          On welfare:

          “Ask not what your country can do for you…” was not a call to socialism. Kennedy’s welfare policy emphasized “training for useful work instead of prolonged dependency.” JFK

          I could go on, but this isn’t really my strength. I got most of these quotes from Ira Stoll, from his book JFK, Conservative. I recommend it.

          • I’ve said this for years, if JFK was currently in politics, he’d probably be an un-electably centrist Republican. The left really needs to come to terms with the fact that it was infiltrated by communists, and driven left off the reservation. Charles is in denial.

          • That is in fact a fascinating list; makes your point very well. It’s a shame that the left basically ceded many of those issues to the right, sometimes in rhetoric and sometimes in substance as well.

            However, I’m not quite sold on the suggestion that JFK would be center-right today. Let’s not forget the parts of Kennedy’s administration that you left out:

            -Peace Corps – far from just an anti-soviet program
            -Increased money on poverty programs
            -Increased money to federal housing programs
            -Arms Control and Disarmament agency
            -Expansion in social security and lowering of the retirement age to 62
            -Expanded unemployment benefits
            -Federal financing of a homebuilding and slum clearance program
            -Civil rights advocacy as “a profound moral issue” (vs. ‘states’ rights)

            And to be fair, yes he did Bay of Pigs and tried to lower the top marginal tax rate from 91% to 76% – but on balance I don’t think anyone would confuse JFK with a right-wing candidate, either then (Nixon) or now.

            • I’m always amused when Republicans point out that JFK lowered taxes, and forget to mention the actual rates he lowered them too. Would any Republican support a top rate of 76% today?

              It may be true that JFK would be a conservative today; it’s also true that Ronald Reagan couldn’t win a Republican primary today what with his views on cap and trade, raising capital gains taxes, and gun control.

              • She didn’t assert anything about Reagan, Chris (You forgot amnesty for illegal immigrants). She said Kennedy would be a conservative in today’s terms, you challenged her, she backed it up. BILL CLINTON was a conservative in today’s terms–eliminated welfare, fought discretionary wars abroad, signed DOMA, supported lower taxes, eliminated the deficit.

                • To clarify re taxes and deficit: Clinton was and is a Keynesian. He is in favor of eliminating the deficit when we’ve got a private sector humming enough to provide trade surpluses, high capacity utilization, high employment and growing wages – and he’s in favor of increasing a deficit when we’re in a private sector economic downturn. On taxes, the reverse – higher taxes when we’re in surplus, lower taxes when we’re in deficit, for the same reasons.

                  That’s the reverse of most “all-deficit-all-taxes-all-bad-all-the-time” kind of conservatism that is on parade today. Clinton would be among the first to say that the government should play an activist role in managing economic policy through fiscal activity, and the role should vary based on economic conditions. I think he’d say the time to cut the deficit is not when the economy is on its knees, but when we’re doing well and can afford to pay it down.

                  Re eliminating welfare, I think you’re on much stronger ground; he always was a pragmatic politician, and he intentionally sought common ground with the right on that issue.

          • “I see no magic to tax dollars which are sent to Washington then returned. … I do not favor state compulsion when voluntary individual effort can do the job and do it well.”

            Wow. JFK sounds almost…libertarian. Times and politics have changed, I guess.

            • “the deficits which accompany – and indeed help overcome – low levels of economic activity in poor years”
              Actually that sounds pretty Keynesian.

    • Well, to my surprise, you flunked the honesty and integrity test. What’s the matter? The question you think is legitimate was,

      Senator Cruz. 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 that fear of — another Washington-created crisis is on the way.

      Does your opposition to it show that you’re not the kind of problem-solver American voters want?

      Or in other words, “Are you an idiot, Senator?” You really think that’s professional, fair moderating? The moderator is expressing his biased and partisan opinion in the question. You also know what non sequitur means, so you know “That’s an unethical question” followed by pointing out a pattern that the question typifies isn’t one. To clear up any confusion, a non sequitur would be, “You know, I think gambling on Fantasy Football is one of the great problems facing this nation.” It’s not inappropriate to say, “ask the question with respect and politely, or I’m not answering it.”

      Harwood is and has always been a biased, partisan hack. Always. There were no ultra right wing displays last night, nothing to come close to the socialist love-in held by Bernie and Hillary. Go ahead, tell me what was so radical last night? Rising the age for Social Security over time? Actually paying for what we spend? Not ignoring the debt? That there’s no money in Social Security? Not expanding the government? A flat tax (which has been proposed by someone for decades?) When did you go around the bend? Free college for everyone is perfectly reasonable, but last night’s Republicans have left reality behind?

      It’s vacation time. Tip: the Cape is wonderful this time of year.

      • I haven’t done an exhaustive search, but among those who have PASSED the fairness and integrity test: Ron Fournier, Howard Kurtz, Juan Williams, Piers Morgan, Tina Brown’s Daily Beast, Bill Maher, Carl Bernstein…you know, all those right wing types.

        Good for them.

        Wellfleet is nice…

          • Well, I think Left-wing European commentators on America will denigrate America at any chance they get, because in their mind America has always been a right-wing bother to them. So if any chance to say “look at those rube bumpkins playing at government…so cute” comes up, they don’t care who “on their side” gets thrown under the bus, they’ll make a comment.

      • Great response Jack you beat me to it. Cruz wasn’t asked about the debt ceiling at all. If you want an answer to that question, you say “Senator Cruz – raising the debt ceiling, for or against, and why?”

        It was a clumsy attempt to insert their personal views into the debate and to denigrate Cruz. And he hammered them on it in a beautiful way.

      • When Charles and his ilk fly wildly into Left field almost out of the ballpark and insist they’ve stayed put, of course EVERYONE looks like they’ve flown to the right, and even modest right wing proposals look like extremism… Let alone Trump’s actual craziness, which can’t really be typified as “right wing” half the time.

    • I can’t debate the fact that he ducked a very legitimate question, but non-sequitur aside, how do you feel about the other questions asked which he pointed out, and the manner of questioning?

  2. Your comments about the awful job that the CNBC moderators did made me wonder if they thought they participating in a high school student body election for class president. I think Cruz owned Quintinilla big time and left him at a loss for words. The moderators actually made Trump look good and less of a jerk than they were in the debate.

  3. No he doesn’t and he won’t. I have concluded that most people just pick which side they are on and back into everything from there. And if it means a serial liar becomes President, then so be it.

  4. The brilliance of Cruz’s response is he got in digs on all his major competitors while appearing to bash only the media.

    Ohio’s resurgence is due to plastics? I guess that guy in the “The Graduate” was right.

    • Of course the graduate was right. Haven’t you seen the explosion in the polymer field in the last 40 years? Look at all the high-performance specialty polymers in use now.

      When I was in college, I had a TA who mocked that advice. I protested and said that was great advice, especially for that time. Polymers were where the jobs and money were. He said that was the point, it was foolish to go after a job that paid well. You should follow your heart. I think that sums up the employment trends for recent college graduates.

      • “He said that was the point, it was foolish to go after a job that paid well. You should follow your heart.”

        I don’t think those comments are exclusive.

        You should follow your heart. You should go after a job that pays well.

        “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” -Howard Thurman

        Interestingly enough, it seems the people who have found their passion are so dedicated to perfecting it that money just seems to flow in, or they are so content that the money that flows in is more a side effect and not the source of happiness.

    • Great point.

      I am disturbed at the creeping indoctrination that could lead a smart man like Charles Green to hear that snotty, “when did you stop beating your wife” question and say, “That’s fine and fair.” When I heard it, I turned to my wife and said, “Oh-oh…wrong guy to do that to!”

      And I’m no Cruz fan. To defend that questioning, Charles has to agree with Gawker, which incredibly argued that the problem with the CNBC questions were style not substance. You know, as in “OK, asshole, tell us your brilliant idea for fixing the national debt, as if you can, you big jerk, and why anyone should give a shit what you say.” In cases like that style is substance. CNBC set the stage and revealed its objective when the first question was, in essence, “explain why you shouldn’t be President.” Kasich deserves credit for immediately seeing the trap and ignoring it, talking about his opposition’s weakness. I was asked the same question in a job interview long ago, and my answer was, “Tell you what: let’s talk about what I can bring to the job, and after you know my strengths, we can spend a few seconds talking about my weaknesses. I also decided on the spot that I didn’t want to work there.

      Good for Cruz, good for Rubio, good for Kasich, good for Christie, and for anyone so tainted by partisan bias that they can’t see their push-back as the defense of democracy that it was, I feel sorry for you.

      • Regarding the “creeping indoctrination” of “snotty” comments, I think you overstate the case.

        There’s a pretty standard form many interviewers’ questions take: evidence, blah, quote, blah, one-sentence-zinger-question. It’s been around for a long time, and it’s a perfectly valid form of TV journalism. Many questions follow this format.

        For example: CNN’s opening question to Hillary Clinton in the recent debate:

        “You were against same-sex marriage. Now you’re for it. You defended President Obama’s immigration policies. Now you say they’re too harsh. You supported his trade deal dozen of times. You even called it the “gold standard”. Now, suddenly, last week, you’re against it.

        From the same debate, CNN’s opening question to Bernie Sanders:

        “A Gallup poll says half the country would not put a socialist in the White House. You call yourself a democratic socialist.

        From the first GOP debate in Cleveland, opening question to Ben Carson:

        “Your critics say that your inexperience shows. You’ve suggested that the Baltic States are not a part of NATO, just months ago you were unfamiliar with the major political parties and government in Israel, and domestically, you thought Alan Greenspan had been treasury secretary instead of federal reserve chair.

        More examples of the pointed end-question punchlines:

        Wolf Blitzer to Gingrich in 2012:
        “Speaker Gingrich, you’ve suggested that self-deportation as advocated by Governor Romney is in your words, “AN OBAMA LEVEL FANTASY.” Why?

        Maria Bartiromo to Herman Cain in 2012:
        “You know that shareholders are reluctant to hire a CEO where there

        John Roberts to John Edwards in 2007:
        “Senator, you have changed your position on several issues. You were for the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository before you were against it. You were for the Iraq war before you were against it.

        And so on. I just think that what you call “stop beating your wife” questions are fairly conventional questions aimed at sharpening the relevance of an issue. (Though in fairness, if you examine NPR-moderated debates, you’ll only find ‘please explain the difference between you and candidate X on foreign policy’ type questions. Arguably less pointed and made-for-tv, though also arguably more boring and easy to evade.’)

        Cruz’s great explosion was very carefully planned, and delivered with well-calculated faux dudgeon. It’s called “shoot the messenger,” and it was a crude ripoff of Newt Gingrich’s equally calculated fake anger: if you say something stupid about medicare, just blame David Gregory and everyone will ignore your stupidity, jumping on the anti-media bandwagon.

        It’s not a strategy unique to the GOP – Obama’s done it on occasion – nor is it modern; think back to the relatively justified explosions against Hearst newspapers and the Spanish American war.

        But it’s unseemly. It’s part and parcel of most of the candidates’ desire to avoid being pinned down on content (e.g. the bullying of Trump and whatsisname to keep the debate to two hours and include closing statements, all to avoid having to answer real questions).

        Say what you like about Hillary and Sanders, if you actually read the transcripts, they did a far better job of directly answering essentially the same kinds of questions, with none of the messenger-shooting crowd-pleasing content avoidance that was on display in Boulder.

        • They were not the same kinds of questions, Charles, and your bias is showing. All of the above are legitimate questions that do not suggest that the moderator has already decided the answer.

          “I talked to economic advisers who have served presidents of both parties. They said that you have as chance of cutting taxes that much without increasing the deficit as you would of flying away from that podium by flapping your arms.” (Mockery and belittelment)

          “Is this a comic book version of a presidential campaign?” (Mockery)

          “You want to bring 70,000 pages to three? Is that using really small type? Is that using really small type?” (Mockery and distain)

          “So when the Sun-Sentinel says Rubio should resign, not rip us off, when they say Floridians sent you to Washington to do a job, when they say you act like you hate your job, do you?” (When did you stop beating your wife)

          “Does your opposition to it show that you’re not the kind of problem-solver American voters want?” (moderator’s negative opinion.)

          You’re a thoughtful man, Charlie, but if you can’t tell the difference between the CNBC questions, which include insulting assumptions insultingly phrased arising not from critics but from the moderators themselves, I don’t know what I can say.

          • What can I say? I didn’t hear what you heard re Trump’s ‘bleeding out her whatever’ quote, and all I hear here is fairly conventional CNBC snark – it’s their trademark, go listen to Cramer, go listen to Joe Kernan, go listen to voodoo-economics-Kudlow. And honestly it doesn’t strike me as all that far outside the norm.

            Not to mention, half of your quotes back to me were literal citations of other people – 100% within the bounds of conventional questioning. Since when is quoting the Sun-Sentinel out of bounds? Since when is checking with economists and quoting them back to the candidate out of bounds? Who else should they be quoting besides an economist when it comes to economic issues?

            The one I’ll give you is “comic book version.” But then, how is that distinguishable from “will you say anythning to get elected?” which was asked of Hillary? You could argue they’re both out of bounds, which would at least make you consistent, but again – I just don’t find them particularly offensive.

            You do.


            • I never said they were offensive. I said they are proof of bias. You don’t find troubling the fact that in news media coverage of the 2008 election, the Democratic Party received a total donation of $1,020,816 from 1,160 employees of the three major broadcast television networks, while the Republican Party received only $142,863 from 193 donors, and then in the campaign itself, the relative coverage was so warped that Time‘s Mark Halperin, himself a left-biased commentator, called it “the most disgusting failure of people in our business since the Iraq War. It was extreme bias, extreme pro-Obama coverage.” Meh. The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism backed that up by counting positive and negative stories. After 2012, Pew released its report on the 2012 election, and the bias was just as clear clearer than ever. While Romney and President Obama received approximately the same amount of coverage, the type and character of coverage provided were very different. In evening network news, for example,coverage of Romney was also twice as negative as that of President Obama (23 percent versus 11 percent).

              During the entire Obama debacle, I have documented fairly the many, many ways journalists have made Obama a worse President by refusing to make him accounatable, refusing to tell an accurrate story of scandals and debacles, never putting them together so a fair person can make an obvious conclusion, demonizing the Republican party, openly tilting coverage to back the news media personnel’s policy preference, as if it is not a profession with less than, not more than, the usual profession’s intellectual timber, aiding corruption and racial polarization as a result. You adamantly refuse to see any of that. I regard smart, educated, ethical citizens who cannot work through the fog of bias to condemn the unbelievable bias and refusal of the news media to do its job, during an election or any other time, which is simply telling the truth and not trying to deceive and influence the American people, as more than just frustrating. It aids and abets those who are attempting to make democracy impossible…Not intentionally, in your case, but still, pardon me if I do not think doing that warrants a “meh.” And I salute every Republican and conservative who has decided that this de facto conspiracy, with schools stacked with obedient progressive indoctrinators, the news media dominated by obedient tools of entrenched power, all aimed at pushing one party’s agenda by distortion and deceit—a party that has metastasized into an anti-sovereignty, racist, anti-law enforcement, anti-religion, anti-Constitution, anti-free enterprise, anti-dissent, anti-free speech lock-step cult—must be exposed.

              Rubio accurately picked out another dead bird in the mine moment. Clinton admits in the hearing that, after denying and denying that she knew that the Benghazi was pre-organized by terrorists PRIOR to telling everyone, including the victims’ family, that it was a spontaneous demonstration over a video; criticized our First Amendment, and was part of a electoral plan of deception that employed the fact that the hapless video maker had violated parole to arrest him as if he was a terrorist himself in a nighttime raid. Virtually everyone abroad took this as a redudiation of our own principles. This comes out in the last hearing, as it could and should have come out not months but years before, had Clinton not lied, and the media pronounces that she triumphed. In most news outlets, this admission was buried. You say, “meh.” It’s the totalitarian playbook.

              I have said this repeatedly, media bias and being allied with one party is NOT a partisan issue. The nation’s core values should come before party for every citizen. It is a duty for every citizen.

              I know, right?


              I’m sorry Charles, but I find that reaction frightening, disappointing, and frustrating.

              Democracy does not function

              • “…this de facto conspiracy, with schools stacked with obedient progressive indoctrinators, the news media dominated by obedient tools of entrenched power, all aimed at pushing one party’s agenda by distortion and deceit—a party that has metastasized into an anti-sovereignty, racist, anti-law enforcement, anti-religion, anti-Constitution, anti-free enterprise, anti-dissent, anti-free speech lock-step cult—must be exposed.”

                Jack, I accept your heart-felt belief in this point of view; and it’s as well-argued as one can make it. And it’s not incoherent. And you’re not alone in believing it. And you have good intentions, and you’re a very smart man. And I do mean every one of those statements. (And thank you for the notes of graciousness you apply to me, I know it’s not easy and I appreciate it 🙂

                But I am still not buying it. Strip that one-sentence paragraph of adjectives and adjectival clauses, and what have you got left?

                “This…conspiracy…must be exposed.”

                I’m generally suspicious of conspiracy theories, including this one. If there’s any party that has “metastasized…into a cult” I suggest, it’s the GOP, not the Dems.

                But you know what? The likelihood that you or I are going to change each other’s minds by competing to see who can come up with the most thermonuclear adjectival insult is virtually nil. I’m at least as obstinate as you are; and I’ll be you’re as stubborn as I am.

                And I just don’t think it’s all useful. And since I’m as guilty as anyone here, at least on some occasions, of defaulting to defamatory and insulting language, I’m going to declare a halt to it on my part. If I can’t contribute something factually, I’ll leave it alone. And I’ll strive to emulate Hemingway and eliminate adjectives, though I see I’ve already failed in the above paragraphs.

                The country could use less divisiveness and more focus on common ground.

  5. I will never understand why, in this day and age, a U.S. senator – or, a member of the U.S. House – must be literally breathing in Washington DC as a prerequisite to cast a vote on anything. What an archaic system! We let absentees elect presidents. So why can’t members of Congress cast the votes on the business that is their jobs while they are outside DC? That would do away with the excuse of senators not voting, and one everybody-does-it rationalization, too. Heck, it might even pave the way for a return to a Congress with a House that has members who represent the smaller numbers of people that each member ought to represent. And when Congress convenes en masse, they can sit in Nationals Park or FedEx Field.

  6. So far, I think the best questions in the debate have come from Fox News.

    As for Cruz’s answer, it comes off as rehearsed. And the Bolsheviks/Mensheviks comment is just as snotty and off-point as the questions being asked, so I wouldn’t praise him for that.

    It is true that there is more cohesiveness in the party right now, about ideas and candidates.The reason the Republicans seem so disjointed in these debates is that they don’t know what they stand for right now. On war — you’ve got Lindsay Graham (bomb everybody) to Carly Fiorina (cold war for everyone) to Rand Paul (pull all troops back now, period). On taxes, you’ve got Trump (basically a Dem) to Carson (flat tax of some unknown percentage). On domestic policy, there’s Paul (shut down half the government agencies) to Christie (doubling down on investing in DHS). And the social issues are just the icing on the cake — Cruz and Huckabee want a theocracy, and Paul wants the individual states to shape social policy.

    I’m not saying one position is better than another — I’m just pointing out that the Republicans have too many competing ideologies under one tent right now. At a minimum, Cruz, Paul, and Huckabee have to realize that they should be third-party candidates or not run at all. And, in my personal view, Kasich and Christie have to step up and demonstrate leadership to kick the circus clowns (Trump and Carson) to the curb and to convince Rubio that now is not his time.

    • I agree with most of this, Beth, although I don’t think a party can have too many ideologies. They all still want to reduce government, regulation and the debt, they are all dedicated to free speech, almost all oppose abortion, except for Paul—Libertarians belong in their own party—all are pro defense, pro-Capitalism and pro-American exceptionalism.
      I also think you aren’t giving Cruz enough credit…I have heard him speak a lot, and he extemporizes more eloquently and pointedly than Jeb on a teleprompter.

      You wouldn’t praise the Bolsheviks/Mensheviks comment and neither did I. I did say that it is shocking that Chuck Todd never heard of the Mensheviks, and would assume admitting so would make him look like like an ignoramous.

      Yup, the ones who can’t win—including Bush– need to pick someone who can to endorse and get out.

    • “As for Cruz’s answer, it comes off as rehearsed.”

      It couldn’t have been rehearsed unless Cruz was privy to the questions before they were asked, Beth. Or do you think that Cruz was banking on CNBC moderators being toxicly biased? Now what could have given him that idea?

      But as to the rest of it… I think your confusion stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to think. Conformity of thought isn’t healthy… The fact that there are so many disparate ideas building under the Republican banner means that Republican voters have more opportunity to choose the candidates who they honestly believe agrees with them most. Juxtapose that with the Democratic nomination, where the two frontrunners are in a hovering, perpetually spinning race to see who can bury themselves up the other candidates ass. Where’s the diversity of thought? You have the choice between a rabid socialist and a rabid socialist with an integrity problem.

      • It is pretty easy to rehearse a zinger in connection with a debate — especially one that attacks the moderator.

        As for diversity of thought, of course that is a wonderful thing — but then you join a party who thinks along the same lines. If you don’t think like that party, then you join another party that does.

        The problem here is too few parties, not lack of diversity.

        • “The problem here is too few parties, not lack of diversity.”

          Really. That’s your answer? On a long enough scale, first past the post electoral systems will trend towards a two party system. Creating a system where enough electoral reform has happened to make a third party viable would require a constitutional amendment. Good luck. So either this is waxing poetic, or hoping desperately that the right splits its’ vote.

      • Hillary’s not a socialist. She’s an opportunist. A feminist who abets sexual exploitation. A fighter for middle class students who charges they colleges $250000 for a canned speech. A Lesbian who opposed gay marriage then denied she ever did. A Yankee who fakes southern accents when she’s in the South. A Wall Street reformer who takes bribes from Wall Street.

          • I think it is historically undeniable that a system, like socialism, that in practice blocks the common man’s ability to advance himself, that the temptation to corruption grows rapidly – either in corruption to avoid the stifling regulations by running in a black market or unethically hidden enterprises or in corruption of public officials to openly get by the same regulations.

            It’s funny that as government gets bigger, the corporations in bed with government get bigger also… though the primary increasers of government claim to be out to break the cartel-like advantages those mega-corporations enjoy.

            Funny that…

            Where’d the competition go?

    • Why do I have a funny feeling that if the plethora of Republican candidates were far more uniform in their ideologies, Beth would be complaining that Republicans don’t have enough ideas or aren’t diverse in their thinking or are just cookie cutter renditions of the same candidate?

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