Is it warm in here, or just me?
In this column two weeks back, I highlighted the opportunity that the Republican Party had to cast a spotlight on the substantial bias that mainstream media (MSM) has on conservative candidates versus liberal candidates. While media organizations like The Huffington Post and MSNBC like to claim total ignorance to this, it is an overwhelming fact that, according to The Washington Times, the party affiliation of journalists leans 28% Democrat to a minuscule 7% Republican; the rest allege to be independent. (My choice of words.)
Regardless of how the media outlets themselves reacted; the Republican Party leadership had a great opportunity to let this perception help them take some control over the remaining debates would be structured. The combined campaigns, represented by Republican attorney Ben Ginsburg, drafted a letter with specific requests for all future debate producers. To start, I disagree with the premise of all campaigns signing up to a joint list of demands. Keeping each to their own would have required the producers to consider each candidate’s concerns independently, risking one or two headliners dropping out if there was any hint of hijinx. But setting aside what I wouldn’t have done, let’s review the requested terms.
The letter starts with some reasonably requests, such as: scheduling a conference with all the campaigns participating jointly so that the campaigns may ask questions about the format for the debate, the moderators and answers to the questions in the joint letter; a minimum 30-second opening statement and a minimum 30-second closing statement for each participant; criteria for inclusion – which polls and why each poll’s methodology and sample size was acceptable; How long are answers and rebuttals; If a candidate is mentioned, will he/she automatically be called on so they can rebut; committing to turning off microphones during breaks; (not) allow members of the audience to wear political messages (shirts, buttons, signs, etc.) and similar lines. Some of the questions led me to ask myself: Have they not been asking these questions of debate producers the entire time? (When and where is the debate? Who are the planned moderators?)
Then there were those that opened the door to allow the same MSM that should have been on its heels to go back on the attack.
From the letter draft: Will you commit that you will not: Ask the candidates to raise their hands to answer a question; Ask yes/no questions without time to provide a substantive answer; Allow candidate-to-candidate questioning; Allow props or pledges by the candidates; Have reaction shots of members of the audience or moderators during debates; Show an empty podium after a break (describe how far away the bathrooms are). And, the one catching the most attention: Can you pledge that the temperature in the hall be kept below 67 degrees?
While we know that a) these are exactly the types of demands being made by the Hillary campaign, plus a few others, but are not getting published; and b) most of these requests should not be a surprise; the whole premise of a published joint debate demand letter clearly shows my point two weeks ago: if there’s one thing the GOP establishment leadership is not good at doing, it is taking advantage of opportunities to utilize the gifts handed to them by the Democrats.
What SHOULD have been done, given the more GOP-friendly venue of Fox Business Channel that was pending, was to hold separate discussions between Mr. Ginsburg and each future venue, starting with the conservative-leaning media organizations, to draft a joint set of mutually-agreed conditions where the GOP candidates could simply be asking for an environment that allowed what the Democrat candidates already have: one where issue-related topics are prioritized over those more interesting to TMZ viewers than most high-propensity independent voters. (Because while these two groupings are not mutually exclusive, most readers would concede they are nothing close to concentric!)
The Fox Business News Debate on Tuesday evening went off under a more balanced setting. The gaffs and drama created during the debate were mostly candidate-created, which is fine by me. Some have asserted that the test of this letter will be this Saturday, when the next Democratic Debate will be hosted by CBS’ John Dickerson in Des Moines, Iowa. With their field down to three candidates, one of which is an afterthought and the other refusing to challenger her, we all know this is Hillary going through the motions. Will CBS dare take her to task on any part of her 30+ years in politics when asking about key issues?
I believe the REAL test of this RNC debate stunt will be on December 15th, when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer heads up their GOP Presidential Debate. How will the left-leaning organization adjust its original planned format and questioning strategy based on the requests? Have they responded to the request letter? (The 30-day requested conference is this Sunday.) Maybe the letter requests will yield some improvement in the debates overall.
My position is this: by sending the letter to each media organization before vetting it with a few “allies”; and, even better, confirming a few would help validate the objectiveness and standard nature of the requests, the Republicans once again showed that they still have much to learn about how to take on the MSM. It definitely did nothing to help those brave 7% of conservative leaning journalists.