WASHINGTON — CNBC and the news media in general came in for an avalanche of criticism during and after Wednesday’s night’s debate from Republicans who said the network’s questioning was biased and trivial.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas offered the sharpest attack of the night, at one point using a minute of his time for a diatribe against a question posed by CNBC moderator Carl Quintanilla about whether his opposition to a bipartisan budget deal makes him less appealing to voters.
“The questions asked in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” Cruz said. “This is not a cage match. ‘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?”
He added, “Contrast that with the Democratic debate, where every thought and question from the media was, ‘Which of you is more handsome and why?’”
Cruz’s criticism was echoed by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who expressed his displeasure by saying “Democrats have the ultimate super PAC. It’s called the mainstream media.” Donald Trump weighed in, too, accusing CNBC of being “unfair” and asking questions he described at one point as “nasty.”
Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee chairman, continued the bashing after the debate, held in Boulder, Colorado.
“The performance by the CNBC moderators was extremely disappointing and did a disservice to their network, our candidates, and voters,” he said in a statement. “CNBC should be ashamed of how this debate was handled.”
In response, CNBC spokesman Brian Steel issued a one-sentence reply Wednesday night: “People who want to be President of the United States should be able to answer tough questions,” his statement said.
Since 2012, Republicans have irregularly criticized journalists during debates — often to cheers and applause from the audience.
In a primary debate in 2012, Newt Gingrich tore into CNN moderator John King after he opened the event by asking Gingrich about the state of Gingrich’s marriage. Republicans also weren’t happy with CNN’s Candy Crowley after she corrected GOP candidate Mitt Romney during a debate with President Barack Obama in 2012.
Those episodes prompted the RNC to amend its rules for the current election cycle by insisting that news organizations include at least one journalist from a conservative media organization as a moderator. CNBC — whom critics have frequently called conservative in its approach to covering Wall Street and economic policy — included on its panel Rick Santelli, an editor who is often credited with being the catalyst for the tea party movement.
Attacks on the media tend to play well with conservative voters, who have long suspected mainstream journalists of being biased in favor of liberals. Indeed, Cruz’s critique drew a thunderous ovation, and became the most mentioned moment of the debate on Facebook, according to the social media organization.
But the strategy appears to play well regardless of the journalists’ affiliation. Trump, for example, seemed to shore up his support in August by objecting to questions posed by Fox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly, who is not generally regarded as a liberal. Trump thereafter engaged in a running feud with Fox News as his poll numbers surged.
Rubio set the tone early Wednesday when he objected to the mention of an editorial Wednesday in a Florida newspaper that called on him to resign his Senate seat if he continued to miss votes while campaigning. He said, “I read that editorial today with great amusement. It’s actually evidence of the bias that exists in the American media today.”
However, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush seemed to disagree; he also criticized Rubio’s Senate work habits, likening them to “a French work week.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had his own moment of media bashing after Bush was asked a question about whether fantasy football businesses should be regulated. “We’re talking about fantasy football?” Christie said, incredulously. “How about we get the government to do what they’re supposed to be doing? Enough with fantasy football. Let people play. Who cares?”
Christie also objected to being interrupted by one moderator, whom he upbraided by saying, “Even in New Jersey what you’re doing is called rude.”