The Republican National Committee announced on Friday that it is suspending its partnership with NBC News for a GOP presidential debate in February.
In a letter to NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said Wednesday night’s debate hosted by CNBC, which was universally criticized for its handling of the contest, influenced his decision to cut ties with the network for the Feb. 26 debate at the University of Houston.
“The CNBC network is one of your media properties, and its handling of the debate was conducted in bad faith,” Priebus wrote. “We understand that NBC does not exercise full editorial control over CNBC’s journalistic approach. However, the network is an arm of your organization, and we need to ensure there is not a repeat performance.”
During the that debate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) lashed out at the moderators for provoking a “cage match” among the candidates rather than asking substantive questions. The moderators — John Harwood, Becky Quick, and Carl Quintanilla — faced harsh criticism from the candidates and political pundits alike for their line of questioning and overall approach to the debate.
In his letter, Priebus explained numerous instances in which CNBC violated its agreement with the RNC and the campaigns, repeating an earlier criticism that the questions were “inaccurate or downright offensive.”
“While debates are meant to include tough questions and contrast candidates’ visions and policies for the future of America, CNBC’s moderators engaged in a series of ‘gotcha’ questions, petty and mean-spirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates,” Priebus continued. “What took place Wednesday night was not an attempt to give the American people a greater understanding of our candidates’ policies and ideas.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a GOP White House hopeful who has sat at the near-bottom of the large field of candidates in terms of his support, pinned the blame for the mismanaged debate on the RNC, accusing the party of over-correcting its mistakes from the 2012 election cycle and “micromanaging the process” this time around. Graham said the RNC is improperly using national polling numbers in an effort to winnow the large field of candidates.
Priebus said the February debate, co-hosted with conservative publication National Review, will still take place. Spanish-language network Telemundo, which NBC owns, was also supposed to be a partner. It is unclear if the RNC will attempt to find a different Hispanic organization to take its place.
UPDATE — 1:28 p.m. ET: NBC News released the following statement: “This is a disappointing development. However, along with our debate broadcast partners at Telemundo we will work in good faith to resolve this matter with the Republican Party.”
Here’s the full letter:
Mr. Andrew Lack
Chairman, NBC News
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, New York 10112
Dear Mr. Lack,
I write to inform you that pending further discussion between the Republican National Committee (RNC) and our presidential campaigns, we are suspending the partnership with NBC News for the Republican primary debate at the University of Houston on February 26, 2016. The RNC’s sole role in the primary debate process is to ensure that our candidates are given a full and fair opportunity to lay out their vision for America’s future. We simply cannot continue with NBC without full consultation with our campaigns.
The CNBC network is one of your media properties, and its handling of the debate was conducted in bad faith. We understand that NBC does not exercise full editorial control over CNBC’s journalistic approach. However, the network is an arm of your organization, and we need to ensure there is not a repeat performance.
CNBC billed the debate as one that would focus on “the key issues that matter to all voters—job growth, taxes, technology, retirement and the health of our national economy.” That was not the case. Before the debate, the candidates were promised an opening question on economic or financial matters. That was not the case. Candidates were promised that speaking time would be carefully monitored to ensure fairness. That was not the case. Questions were inaccurate or downright offensive. The first question directed to one of our candidates asked if he was running a comic book version of a presidential campaign, hardly in the spirit of how the debate was billed.
While debates are meant to include tough questions and contrast candidates’ visions and policies for the future of America, CNBC’s moderators engaged in a series of “gotcha” questions, petty and mean-spirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates. What took place Wednesday night was not an attempt to give the American people a greater understanding of our candidates’ policies and ideas.
I have tremendous respect for the First Amendment and freedom of the press. However, I also expect the media to host a substantive debate on consequential issues important to Americans. CNBC did not.
While we are suspending our partnership with NBC News and its properties, we still fully intend to have a debate on that day, and will ensure that National Review remains part of it.
I will be working with our candidates to discuss how to move forward and will be in touch.
Chairman, Republican National Committee
[Image via screengrab]
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