Friday morning reviews of the first GOP Primary Debate ranged from pretty good to the greatest debate in modern political history. It would be an understatement to recognize the majority of viewers were impressed with Fox News Channel, the moderators, and even most of the candidates. While there were many positive takeaways from the debate, I am unable to pretend that both the moderators and several candidates failed on particular fronts.
First, the Fox News moderators, Brett Baier, Megyn Kelly, and Chris Wallace are still glowing in the overwhelming positive feedback on their performances. The very fact that the “moderators” have been such a part of the story is problematic. Traditionally it has been accepted that if the moderators actively influence the perception of the debate, then they have failed. In an effort to produce an entertaining event, the moderators crossed the line more than once.
Before I get into my personal opinions, it should be noted that I consider Megyn Kelly my personal favorite personality in the news media, and also consider Brett Baier the best “unbias” news guy on television. If I have leanings, they would benefit Fox News and their talent. Also, I recognize it must be difficult to moderate such a large field, and provide fair treatment to each candidate in a panel news conference masquerading as a debate. Still, from the beginning it was apparent that the moderators were going to attempt to provoke Donald Trump into creating “soundbites” at best, or simply tear him down at worst. The initial question about support for the eventual candidate was simply “bush league”. Everyone in the building and at home knew that Trump was the only individual that may not commit to supporting the eventual candidate. I think it is a legitimate question for Trump, but coming at it through the back door only insinuates you are attempting to create a visual image of Trump raising his hand playing the “black hat” role. Another segment involving Trump was Megyn Kelly asking him about his comments on Twitter related to one or two females. I take issue with the question because it is irrelevant on several fronts. First, the comments were made when Trump was acting in the role of personal brand promoter and celebrity. Second, Trump has called many more males negative names via social media, but Megyn did not mention those “tweets”. The point is Trump did not call a female a name because of her sexual identity, therefore why try to paint a picture that Trump has negative perspective of all females. For all of Kelly’s positive characteristics, she has past events of getting caught up in the mindset of “protecting women”, which is nothing more than identity politics. A verbal assault on a woman is not a verbal assault on women.
The moderators had several more occasions of becoming too involved in trying to influence a predictable outcome throughout the night, and it was not limited to Kelly. The request of Jeb Bush to speak directly at his “old friend” Marco Rubio about an issue that was not limited to the two candidates is similar to pushing two middle school students into each other trying to instigate a conflict. An even worse question involving Bush involved asking him about “unconfirmed” rumors from an “unnamed” source relating to derogatory comments made about Donald Trump. Really? Did someone from Gawker recommend that garbage? Beyond the actual questions, the discrepancy between the time given to each candidate was too great, and should have been identified in the planning process. I understand the candidates can influence this on stage to some degree, but giving Donald Trump 250% of the time given to Rand Paul, the man that Time Magazine dubbed the “most interesting man in politics” is unacceptable and hints at a greater concern for ratings.
My most significant criticism of Fox News is for events subsequent to the actual debate. Friday morning Fox News could not cease with patting themselves on the back. Articles covered their website singing their praises, and many of them included praises from the most liberal voices in America. I am still unsure why a conservative should be concerned with what Salon.com or Chelsea Clinton thinks about a Republican Debate. It got worse when Ed Henry showed up quoting Clinton Campaign officials complimenting Fox News! I have never picked up the New York Times and read an editorial article of them promoting compliments directed at them from Drudge or The Heritage Foundation.
Overall the debate was entertaining, and many questions did result in insightful candidate responses. I remain a supporter of Fox News and their on-air talent, but last nights performance did not “raise the bar” as Fox and many Republicans have advertised. Two person or party debates allow the moderator to mildly instigate as long as it is not from a bias position, but a 10 person debate simply does not allow this active role. Hopefully Brett, Megyn and Chris can fairly review their influence on the debate once they cease patting themselves on the back.