GOP Suspends Presidential Debate on NBCU’s Telemundo

RNC says CNBC debate was ‘conducted in bad faith’
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The Republican National Committee has suspended plans to have a presidential primary debate on NBC Universal’s Spanish-language network Telemundo.

In a letter to Andrew Lack, chairman of NBC News, Reince Priebus, chairman of the RNC cited that Wednesday night’s debate on CNBC was the reason for the suspension.

“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,” he said.

"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,' Priebus said.

“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,” NBC News said in a statement.

The CNBC debate drew a criticism from other quarters as well.

CNBC managed to please almost no one, except maybe the candidates who scored easy points by pummeling the questioners," said the New York Times' James Poniewozik. The forum was raucous but not revealing, combative but not authoritative, chaotic but not interesting. And it ended in the nigh-impossible spectacle of conservatives accusing the Wall Street-focused business network of swinging the ax for the liberal media.

The debate drew 14 million viewers a record for CNBC, though not as much as prior debates on Fox News Channel and CNN have attracted.

Losing a debate could be a financial setback for NBCU and Telemundo. With millions tuning in, ad rates have jumped for networks hosting presidential debates. CNBC sold at at rates reaching $250,000 per spot and NBCU executives reportedly called Wednesday the most profitable day in the network's history.

Here is the text of Priebus' letter:

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.

Sincerely,

Reince Priebus
Chairman, Republican National Committee

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