The CNBC-hosted Republican debate turned into a debacle. From the first question, it was clear that CNBC didn’t want to be the conduit of information for the candidates. They wanted to insert themselves into the debate by asking ridiculous, mean-spirited and mostly irrelevant questions.
Candidate Ted Cruz, after several questions, took them to task and received loud audience approval. He blasted the questioners for wanting to turn a civil debate into a “cage fight.”
This post has nothing to do with politics. It has to do with money. Since Donald Trump entered the race, the Republican debates have earned Fox, CNN and now CNBC big ratings. And big ratings translate into big ad revenue.
It was no accident that CNBC asked the questions they asked. They wanted the “debate” to be as bloody as it possibly could. They wanted to turn it into a reality show that is talked about and YouTubed over and over. And by doing so pump up the ratings.
The question is: what is the role of a news organization that hosts an election debate? Are they supposed to ask meaningful questions that allow each candidate to state his/her positions on important issues, or is the media’s role to grab as many eyeballs as possible for its own bottom line?
The historic 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate, which cemented John Kennedy’s election, was the first televised presidential debate. But it was not an exercise in who could mess up the most. CBS took its role as a news organization seriously and allowed each candidate to talk about the issues, not about their personalities, short-comings, poll ratings and everything else that had nothing to do with being president.
But, unfortunately, that time may have come and gone. Today news organizations are profit centers and they cherish the opportunity to host election debates because they make money, especially if there are fireworks.
And if it takes a network like CNBC to flame the fires, well, so be it.
On the other hand, the fall-out from the CNBC was so pronounced and embarrassing that future primary and then election debates may actually do what they are supposed to — showcase the candidates qualifications for the most powerful job on earth.
Let’s see if that is the case.