Wanted: ‘Fair and balanced’ debates for GOP, Dems

There is no question that this week’s CNBC debate went off the rails.

There was trouble in Colorado even before the debate began when the campaigns began to complain about the size of their green rooms and if the rooms were assigned according to poll numbers. Was that fair? Is it fair to position candidates on stage based on their poll standing? Do the news media make or break candidates by placement and their questions? These are all fair questions.

The biggest complaint about the Wednesday night was the “gotcha” questions. The Democratic Party debates have had their fair share of “gotcha” questions, too.

During the first Democratic Party debate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked, “Will you say or do anything to be president?” She was also asked a long question: “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. Will you say anything to get elected?”

Other Democrat candidates were asked similar “gotcha” questions, such as the question to former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland: “The current top prosecutor in Baltimore, also a Democrat, blames your zero-tolerance policies for sowing the seeds of unrest. Why should Americans trust you with the country when they see what’s going on in the city that you ran for more than seven years?”

Moderators also asked former Marine and Sen. Jim Webb what he thought of Sen. Bernie Sanders being a conscientious objector. Certainly those questions were made to rub against the candidates. However, the Democrat candidates took it in stride.

This week, the debates took a different turn, as there was much audience applause when Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, went after the CNBC panel for the questions. He said, “You know, let me say something at the outset. The questions that have been asked so far 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 people care about?”

Cruz said the questions contrasted with those of the Democrat debate, where he claimed every fawning question from the media was, “Which of you is more handsome and why?

“Let me be clear,” Cruz continued. “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.”

The candidates were so upset by the debate on Wednesday night that they decided to meet without the Republican National Committee, or RNC, which set up the debate. For its part, the RNC canceled NBC’s hosting of the pre-super Tuesday debate at the end of February and gave it to the National Review.

Were the questions fair or not?

That’s up to the voting audience to decide, but it was certainly quite suspect that CNBC, a finance-oriented channel, did not follow-up on some of the more obvious questions. My favorite non-follow up was from Carly Fiorina’s statement: “Let me just say on taxes, how long have we been talking about tax reform in Washington, D.C.? We have been talking about it for decades. We now have a 73,000-page tax code. There have been more than 4,000 changes to the tax plan since 2001 alone. There are loads of great ideas, great conservative ideas from wonderful think tanks about how to reform the tax code.”

She was then asked, “You want to bring 70,000 pages to three?”

The follow-up comment was about “really small type,” but not about what she would have in her tax code, which would have been a natural question designed to inform the voting public.

The next Republican debate is scheduled for November, and it’s moderated by Fox Business Channel and the Wall Street Journal. I know they will do a lot better on the financial issues. I work for them, I know them, and have utter confidence in them. It will be a debate worth watching with real questions about our country and the financial questions that we face.

I only wish that we could have Fox Business moderate the Democratic debate, too. Both debates would be “fair and balanced,” giving potential voters real access to information, so they can make the best choice in the voting booths this election.

Media wishing to interview Ellen Ratner, please contact media@wnd.com.

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