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Richard Connor: Who won the debate? Not the folks asking questions

🕐 4 min read

The main winners and losers in the Oct. 28 Republican presidential debate are easy to identify. CNBC and its once-respected parent network NBC lost; the candidates won.

And what about the viewers – the 14 million potential voters who tuned in to the debate hoping to see 10 would-be presidents of the United States engaging in a serious discussion of important issues? Well, those information-craving Americans both won and lost – won because they were treated to the sight of confident, articulate conservatives fighting back against the liberal bias of the mainstream media as personified by CNBC’s sniping panel of debate moderators, and lost because the meaningful give and take was largely overshadowed by the self-indulgent hostility of the so-called journalists posing questions to the debaters.

Other than summer jobs and working for my family’s construction company as a teenager, the only work I have ever done has been in the new business. I have never wavered in my defense of the media’s integrity and never hesitated to dispute claims of institutional bias. This loyalty has become increasingly difficult to sustain.

CNBC, a cable outlet that specializes in financial news and positions itself as an authoritative arbiter of economic issues, offered up three of its most visible on-air personalities as questioners for the debate: Carl Quintanilla, Becky Quick and John Harwood. They were joined by guest questioners such as bombastic stock-picker/financial carnival barker Jim Cramer, who amazingly enough came off as marginally reasonable and professional in comparison to the others.

From the start, the questioners revealed their contempt for the candidates, with Harwood immediately attacking Trump by laying out a sarcastic summary of the early front-runner’s platform and suggesting that Trump’s candidacy is a “comic book” version of a presidential campaign. Trump noted the accusatory tone of the question but answered as best he could.

Things only got worse, with panelists cheap-shotting each candidate until Texas’ famously combative U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz had heard enough. Ignoring an insulting “gotcha” question from Quintanilla, Cruz unloaded.

“The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” Cruz said, aiming a lightning-bolt stare at the panelists. He then turned the tables, sarcastically reprising several questions and ripping the questioners for trying to bait the debaters into attacking one another.

“How about talking about the substantive issues people care about?” Cruz demanded. The live audience that was gathered to watch the debate at the University of Colorado in Boulder roared in agreement.

If there was one admirable trait shown by the panelists it was their resilience. Even as other candidates followed Cruz’s lead, deflecting and ridiculing consistently biased and often poorly researched questions, the CNBC talking heads never wavered, never showed they were smart enough to take the jeers of the audience to heart and alter their negative, embarrassing approach.

Not even when New Jersey Governor – and famously combative – Chris Christie called out the panelists for their abject silliness.

One had asked former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush if the government should become involved in policing fantasy sports. Bush politely responded with good humor, noting that he is 7-0 with his fantasy football team.

Christie pounced.

“Are we really talking about getting government involved in fantasy football?” Christie asked. “Wait a second, we have $19 trillion in debt, people out of work, we have ISIS and al-Qaida attacking us and we’re talking about fantasy football? Can we stop?”

Later, Christie chastised Harwood for interrupting him when he tried to answer a question.

“Even in New Jersey,” the sometimes painfully blunt Jerseyite quipped, “what you’re doing is called rude.”

What more was there to say?

Well, there was a little more. Gov. Mike Huckabee refused to get involved when invited to bash Trump.

“I love Donald Trump,” Huckabee said, summoning up a barrelful of good-natured enthusiasm. “I’m wearing a Trump tie tonight!”

My recollections of the NBC network and its formerly prestigious news division date me. This was the network of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley and later John Chancellor, followed by Tom Brokaw. Serious men who delivered the news with authority, confidence and no trace of political persuasion. Then it became the network of Brian Williams, who fabricated stories for his own glory, was caught lying but managed to stay employed by NBC, even if he did lose his job as the nightly news anchor and found himself relegated to marketing “breaking news” on little-watched cable outlet MSNBC.

And now this, a trio of pseudo-news people who lost control of the debate from the start and then continued to ask one question after another that was “loaded.” There was a time when political candidates did not dare challenge such media showboats. But that has changed, and for the better.

Richard Connor is chairman of the parent company of Fort Worth Business, DRC Media. Contact him at rconnor@bizpress.net.

Richard Connor
Richard Connor is the owner and CEO/Publisher of DRC Media, the parent company of the Fort Worth Business Press. he also owns newspapers in Virginia. Mr. Connor held a number of corporate media executive positions before founding his own company. He is an award-winning columnist and at one time wrote a weekly column on national politics for CQ Politics, the online version of Washington, D.C.-based Congressional Quarterly.

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