Predictably, it appears that the complaints about the media from Republicans regarding the handling of debates does not include Fox News. Days after GOP Presidential candidates openly complained about the biased questions coming from that bastion of liberal thought known as CNBC during the most recent Republican debate, most of the campaign staffs met to decide on new criteria and rules the networks will need to adhere to in following debates. This also comes on the heels of the Republican National Committee, also under fire from the candidates and other Republicans, announcing that it will take away February’s debate from NBC News and Telemundo.
Reporting on the meeting that occurred Sunday evening, the Washington Post’s David Weigel and Robert Costa provided details of the demands that the individual campaigns want moving forward. (Only Carly Fiorina’s camp didn’t have anyone in attendance, claiming logistical issues.) Based on the constant whining about the liberal media and gotcha questions immediately following Wednesday night’s trainwreck, one could already guess that much of the conversation would center on moderator selection, choice of questions, distribution of airtime and overall tone. (UPDATE: Here’s a link to the working draft the campaigns came up with.)
Of course, each campaign had their own particular points of contention. Jeb Bush whined about how he was depicted by on-air graphics and his limited amount of speaking time at the last debates. Therefore, he would like the campaigns to get final say on biographical details that are shown on screen and moderators to agree to equal time for all participants. Meanwhile, floundering campaigns, like those of Bobby Jindal and Lindsey Graham, want to have a chance on the main stage, much to the consternation of Donald Trump and Ben Carson, who feel that there are already too many people in the main debates.
While it appears that there was also conflict over whether or not Telemundo should be given their debate back — Trump (naturally) is against that while Jeb! feels they need to at least make an appeal to Latino voters — the campaigns seem to have a general sense of what they want networks to agree on. They have stated they will send out a questionnaire to the networks hosting the rest of the debates for them to fill out and send back. They’ll also have conference calls prior to each debate to verify that all of their demands are being met. If they aren’t, then the higher-polling candidates will boycott the debate. This is apparently a threat to the networks that ratings (and ad dollars) will suffer if Trump, Carson and the rest don’t get their way.
However, one thing was made clear during the meeting. The upcoming debate that will be hosted by Fox Business will not be subjected to the questionnaire or any additional requests. Per Costa and Weigel, it appears that the majority of the campaigns don’t want to anger Fox News chief Roger Ailes. See, while Fox has helped provide the candidates with their anti-media talking points and feelings of victimhood, the network itself cannot be treated like the others. They will get to do as they please while the rest of the lamestream media has to kowtow to conservative requests for ‘fairness’.
The campaigns reached an early consensus on one issue, according to several operatives in the room: the secure standing of Fox News Channel. Any changes would be applied to debates after next week’s Fox Business Network debate. Among the reasons, according to one operative in the room, was that “people are afraid to make Roger [Ailes] mad,” a reference to the network’s chief.
So there you go. The fact is, the very first debate from Fox News in August set the tone for CNBC. Moderators Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier and Chris Wallace all hammered the candidates with tough pointed questions that were meant to both make the participants uncomfortable and lead to conflict on the stage. Trump himself was so pissed that he started an on-again/off-again ‘war’ with Fox News and Kelly over her pressing hum on his misogyny. What will happen if Ailes once again pushes his moderators to go hard at the candidates once more, especially if he thinks the herd needs to be thinned out?
We know Trump will already complain, no matter what, because that is what he does. However, what about the other candidates, many of whom are looking at possible Fox pundit jobs after they drop out. Will they say anything if the debate later this month is another circus freak show?
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