Media Mock The GOP's "Ridiculous Manifesto" Of Presidential Debate Demands

Media Mock The GOP's "Ridiculous Manifesto" Of Presidential Debate Demands

››› ››› TYLER CHERRY & CRISTIANO LIMA

Media commentators criticized the Republican presidential candidates' demands to media sponsors for future presidential primary debates, noting that because debates are "a chief means for Americans to hear and weigh the ideas of the candidates," they're "too important to be guided" by a "ridiculous manifesto" of demands from candidates.

GOP Candidates Release List Of Demands For Future Presidential Debate Formats

Republican Campaigns Seek Greater Control Of Debate FormatThe Washington Post reported that representatives from several Republican presidential campaigns met privately to begin "mapping out new demands Sunday for greater control over the format and content of primary debates" following conservative backlash over the CNBC debate:

Several Republican presidential campaigns began mapping out new demands Sunday for greater control over the format and content of primary debates, which have attracted big audiences and become strategically critical for the 2016 cycle's expansive field of contenders.

The effort was a response to long-simmering frustrations over the debates, the questions and in some cases the moderators, which boiled over this weekend when advisers from at least 11 campaigns met in the Washington suburbs to deliberate about how to regain sway over the process.

The private gathering became the latest twist in what has been a turbulent season of debates for the GOP, with less-popular candidates -- including a sitting senator and governor -- furious about being relegated to a little-watched "undercard" debate and the front-runners dismayed by a system they have described as a disastrous brew of bias and arbitrary rules.

The meeting also exposed a leadership rift that has widened in recent days between the Republican National Committee, which negotiated the debate schedule and formats, and some of the candidates. RNC officials said they would not participate in Sunday's meeting, but they have been reassuring campaign operatives that they are willing to recalibrate the events. [The Washington Post11/1/15]

GOP Lawyer Drafts Specific List Of Demands Addressed To Media Sponsors Of Debates. According to The Washington Post, Republican lawyer Ben Ginsberg distributed a draft of a letter outlining a list of demandsregulating the GOP debate formats that could be sent to media sponsors. Among the demands included in the draft letter The Post obtained is a commitment by moderators to not "ask the candidates to raise their hands to answer a question" and to "provide equal time/an equal number of questions to each candidate." [The Washington Post11/1/15]

"The Whining Continues": Media Criticize Republicans' Debate Demands

NY Times Editorial Board: "The Debates Are Too Important" To Be Regulated By A "Ridiculous Manifesto." The New York Times editorial board criticized the GOP candidates' demands in a November 3 editorial, calling them a "ridiculous manifesto" and noting that because debates are "a chief means for Americans to hear and weigh the ideas of the candidates," they're "too important to be guided by a daffy document drafted by hotheads, demanding media outlets 'pledge' that the temperature in the debate hall 'be kept below 67 degrees'":

Late Sunday, representatives of a dozen Republican presidential candidates, who were frothing over their treatment in last week's debate, shut the Republican National Committee out of a meeting during which they essentially chucked its earlier guidance out the window. To please Donald Trump, who pledges to build a 1,000-mile wall between the United States and Mexico and boycott any debate sponsored by the Spanish-language TV network Telemundo, these Republicans want to scrap the only debate to be hosted by Latino media.

They agreed on kid-glove treatment for Fox News, the G.O.P.'s go-to outlet for "ideological reinforcement to like-minded people." For other outlets interested in hosting a debate, they're finalizing a list of demands. If these candidates get their way, they'll ban media behaviors, including: asking the candidates to raise their hands to answer a question (Donald Trump again); asking yes/no questions "without time to provide a substantive answer"; showing audience or moderator reaction to candidates' answers; and showing "an empty podium after a break (describe how far away the bathrooms are)."

Doesn't this list leave too much to chance? What about hiding dangerous extension cords beneath the carpeting? And shouldn't those vying to lead the free world be protected from word association games or geography bee questions?

Granted, the debate last week included some loopy questions. But nearly every time a candidate complained about the media, it was after he or she was asked to explain a policy proposal or past action that's of legitimate concern to voters. The debaters seemed to find it unfair to ask that they explain how they might simultaneously slash taxes and the federal deficit; deport 10 million people overnight; or cut the tax code from 70,000 pages to three. Alas, too many in a field of 14 contenders seem to have concluded that advancing wild ideas and attacking those who would question them are good ways to get attention. 

[...]

Now it's the R.N.C. that has been marginalized. If malcontent candidates get their way, the party leadership will be all but shut out of the planning for debates, a chief means for Americans to hear and weigh the ideas of the candidates. The debates are too important to be guided by a daffy document drafted by hotheads, demanding media outlets "pledge" that the temperature in the debate hall "be kept below 67 degrees."

The ridiculous manifesto drafted Sunday is undergoing revision. The R.N.C. would do well to exert whatever influence it has. It is the party's job, not the media's, to save the Republican presidential candidates from themselves. [The New York Times11/3/15]

Washington Post's Greg Sargent: "It's Hard To See How Any Self-Respecting News Organizations Could Ever" Accept These Demands. Washington Post's Greg Sargent wrote November 2 that the demands "appear designed in part to limit the debates' capacity for creating unflattering moments that might arise in response to tough but thoroughly defensible modes of questioning," and noted that "It's hard to see how any self-respecting news organizations could ever" agree to the demands:

A draft letter is circulating among the GOP campaigns that lays down conditions for the TV networks to follow in order to ensure Republican participation in future debates. The letter, authored by top GOP lawyer Ben Ginsberg, reflects the concerns that were raised at last night's meeting of GOP campaigns, in the wake of widespread conservative and Republican criticism of the CNBC debate moderators for asking the candidates questions they found objectionable.

It's not clear yet whether the GOP campaigns will sign off on the letter. But, read as a document that is meant to reflect Republican anger over the CNBC debate, its goals are striking: they appear designed in part to limit the debates' capacity for creating unflattering moments that might arise in response to tough but thoroughly defensible modes of questioning.

[...]

The first of those [demands] seems designed to head off not the kind of "insulting" questions that Republicans complained of at the CNBC debate, but rather the kind of debate moment that may have harmed Republicans in 2012. Remember when all the candidates were asked to raise their hands if they were prepared to walk away from a deal that offered 10-to-one in spending cuts to tax increased?

[...]

Meanwhile, it's true that yes/no questions that don't afford an opportunity for substantive follow-up can sometimes obscure more than they illuminate. But sometimes pinning down candidates in this fashion can be useful, and at any rate, this is hardly an illegitimate mode of questioning. Are Republicans really going to place the networks on notice that they must pre-commit to refraining from it?

[...]

It's hard to see how any self-respecting news organizations could ever make any such conditional pledges. And it seems reasonable to suspect that some of these conditions are not designed to be acceptable to them in the first place. [The Washington Post, 11/2/15]

Salon: "The Whining Continues" As GOP Drafts Demands For Debate Formats. In a November 3 Salon article, Bob Cesca called the Republican efforts to create debate format demands "whining," and said they're "acting like whiny diaper babies":

We've all seen it happen. Bite into an apple then leave it on the counter for a few minutes and the exposed fruit appears to rot. So it went with the Republican candidates during last week's CNBC debate. The epistemically closed conservative bubble was once again breached on live television, and the GOP field is acting like whiny diaper babies in the aftermath of the telecast, not because the questions were unfair but because their ludicrous ideas were exposed to the air.

[...]

Consequently, ever since the CNBC debate, the Republicans have been going ballistic over the lack of fairness and substance offered by the allegedly liberal moderators, even though they rolled out equally vocal gripes about Fox News Channel moderators, especially Megyn Kelly. The reality is that CNBC moderators might actually be more conservative than Kelly. Prior to Kelly, paleoconservative radio talker Hugh Hewitt asked very difficult questions of the candidates on his show, exposing Carson in particular as being totally out of his depth on foreign policy.

Nearly a week following the debate, the whining continues. On Monday, Republican operative Ben Ginsberg drafted a letter for the various networks hosting future debates. In the letter, the RNC made the following demands (per Mediaite):

-Will you commit that you will not:

1) Ask the candidate to raise their hands to answer a question

2) Ask yes/no questions without time to provide a substantive answer

3) Allow candidate-to-candidate questioning

4) Allow props or pledges by the candidates

5) Have reaction shots of members of the audience or moderators during debates

6) Show an empty podium after a break (describe how far away the bathrooms are)

7) Use behind shots of the candidates showing their notes

8) Leave microphones on during the breaks

9) Allow members of the audience to wear political messages (shirts, buttons, signs, etc.). Who enforces?

-What instructions will you provide the audience about cheering during the debate?

-What are your plans for the lead-in to the debate (Pre-shot video? Announcer to moderator? Director to Moderator?) and how long is it?

-Can you pledge that the temperature in the hall be kept below 67 degrees?

[...]

How do the Republican candidates expect to us to believe they could stand up to Putin, Assad or ISIS if they can't handle tough questions from Megyn Kelly?

Seriously, here's a major suggestion for the GOP campaigns: Instead of worrying about cruel moderators or the debate "props" or the locations of the bathrooms, how about coming up with policies that don't sound utterly insane to anyone who isn't Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade. Doing so would solve a lot of problems, including the actual implementation of the policies when and if one of these clowns happens to be elected. Instead of borrowing tax plans from the Bible, and instead of turning to puddles of quivering goo when faced with scrutiny, how about acting like candidates who can withstand the unmitigated rigors of the presidency. If they seriously think John Harwood was too tough to manage without chucking the debate board-game across the room and storming off, we've ultimately learned all we need to know about whether they can handle the job. They clearly can't. [Salon, 11/3/15]

Slate: Candidates' Debate Demands Are "Hilarious." In a November 2 article, Jim Newell called the list of GOP debate demands "hilarious in its granularity":

In a Godfather-esque gathering of rival political concerns, representatives of the Republican presidential campaigns gathered in an Alexandria, Virginia Hilton on Sunday evening to draw up a list of conditions for their participation in future presidential debates. The campaigns still are all het up about the completely unfair questioning that business-Republican network CNBC subjected them to last week, such as, Marco Rubio, your tax plan is really good for the wealthy, no? or, Ben Carson, why were you in bed with this snake-oil company for so many years? If the moderators had asked fair questions, see, the candidates wouldn't have been forced to lie. What's so complicated about that?

The view of the campaigns is that the Republican National Committee has failed in its mission to prevent moderators from asking them uncomfortable questions to which they may not have truthful answers. The candidates have thus decided to cut out the middleman, since it's their smiling, sweaty faces that have all the leverage. The RNC was not represented at the Sunday night meeting--code-named "family dinner," no joke--even after it tried to mollify campaigns' outrage by suspending NBC News and Telemundo's sponsorship of a February debate.

The campaigns and their consiglieres put together a list of demands to which future debate hosts must agree to ensure the candidates' participation. The finalized version, as obtained by the Washington Post, is hilarious in its granularity. Not once but twice does the document inveigh against "lightening [sic] rounds," which must be banned "because of their frivolousness or 'gotcha' nature, or in some cases both." The letter also implores networks to agree not to "ask the candidates to raise their hands to answer a question," "allow candidate-to-candidate questioning," "allow props or pledges by the candidates," "show an empty podium after a break (describe how far away the bathrooms are)," or "leaves microphones on after breaks." What about allowing hot mics in the distant bathrooms? There's no clear rule on that, though it would certainly violate the spirit of the letter.

[...]

Really, really not how things were supposed to go. What's next? A debate moderated by Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Mark Levin? That's what Sen. Ted Cruz wants. If he and the other campaigns that have now taken control of the process get this, that's not going to show the party's best face for a general election audience that's weighing whether to vote Republican or Democrat in 2016. [Slate,11/2/15]

Washington Post's Eugene Robinson: The Demands Show That "Substantive And Legitimate" Questions "Apparently Made The Candidates Uncomfortable." The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson wrote November 2 that the list of GOP debate demands showed that "substantive and legitimate" policy questions "apparently made the candidates uncomfortable," and mocked the candidates concluding "We'll face down Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Iran, the contenders all say, but somebody save us from reporters asking rude questions":

Not that the questioners are blameless, mind you. It's true that some of the queries at last week's CNBC encounter seemed designed to provoke rather than elucidate. Ted Cruz's memorable characterization of the questions sounded like a parody: " '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?' " But the moderators, using different words, really did ask those things.

They weren't crazy questions, though, even if they should have been framed in a less confrontational way.

[...]

An argument could be made that such horse-race questions are a waste of valuable airtime. But the other lines of inquiry that Cruz blasted in his soliloquy were substantive and legitimate -- and apparently made the candidates uncomfortable. Time to put an end to that.

[...]

Republican attorney and power broker Ben Ginsberg -- who no longer has a horse in this race, following Scott Walker's withdrawal -- chaired the meeting. Ginsberg suggested the hosts be required to make a long list of promises, including not to "ask the candidates to raise their hands to answer a question" or "have reaction shots of members of the audience or moderators during debates."

[...]

In past cycles, the RNC was the final arbiter. But the party is in chaos and the candidates, led by Trump and Carson, are driving the bus. We'll face down Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Iran, the contenders all say, but somebody save us from reporters asking rude questions. [The Washington Post11/2/15

UPDATE: Washington Post Editorial Board: GOP Demands Are "A Threat" To Debates And "Should Be Rejected." On November 3, The Washington Post editorial board wrote "the GOP's ridiculous debate demands should be rejected" because they "could harm the integrity of the debates." The editorial board also called the debate demands "a threat" and said that "responsible journalists will ignore it," adding that "Republicans [choosing] to debate before conservative-friendly media organizations" with the goal of "replac[ing] perceived liberal bias among moderators with explicit and purposeful conservative bias" could be "the largest danger to the [debate] process": 

Three debates into the Republican presidential contest, the candidates are staging a revolt. Piling onto CNBC for its mediocre -- but hardly scandalous -- moderating last week, several campaigns are drawing up demands for the media organizations sponsoring debates during the rest of the nominating season. Others are issuing demands on their own. Their discontent has already led to real-world changes: The Republican National Committee reshuffled staff in response.

A staff reshuffle is one thingAnything that could harm the integrity of the debates, on the other hand, must be rejected.

Some of the changes on the table are virtually irrelevant to the public at large. It won't matter much to anyone other than micromanaging campaign staff if TV networks keep debate halls below 67 degrees or decline to televise empty podiums. At least one suggestion -- that all debates be live-streamed online -- would, in fact, be helpful to those who don't have cable connections.

But the potential for harm is much greater. Candidates appear to want to ban questions that require them to raise their hands or to give yes-or-no answers, on the pretext that such questions don't allow for substantive discussion. At times, that's certainly the case. At others -- such as when, in the 2012 nominating cycle, the Republican candidates raised their hands in opposition to a 10-to-1 budget deal in the GOP's favor -- binary questions can produce illuminating results.

The same goes for the push to ban candidate-to-candidate questioning, or to allow campaigns to vet graphics and candidate biographies flashed on screen. Journalists should be vetting that material, not campaigns seeking soft treatment. Another potential demand -- for 30-second opening and closing statements so that the candidates can recite generally unenlightening prepared remarks -- is a plainly terrible idea.

The largest danger to the process, though, is that this controversy might lead Republicans to choose to debate before conservative-friendly media organizations instead of outlets more likely to offer questions out of line with right-wing orthodoxies. Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) suggested that irresponsible ideologues Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin or Sean Hannity moderate the GOP debates. Carly Fiorina wants the RNC to organize future debates with fringey networks such as the Blaze and One America News. The goal, it seems, is to replace perceived liberal bias among moderators with explicit and purposeful conservative bias.

Even if that doesn't happen, future moderators may now feel pressure to pull their punches, particularly if their networks want to keep hosting debates that draw high ratings. A draft letter to television networks warns that "the quality and fairness of your moderators' questions" will determine "whether the candidates wish to participate in your future debates." This is a threat. Responsible journalists will ignore it. [The Washington Post11/3/15

This post has been updated to include additional examples. 

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