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August 7, 2015

ET TU, FOX NEWS’?: GOP presidential contender Lindsay Graham calls Fox News’ questions of Donald Trump “more of an inquisition than it was a debate.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is criticizing Fox News, saying the moderators of Thursday night’s debate were too harsh with GOP rival Donald Trump.

“This was more of an inquisition than it was a debate,” Graham said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Friday morning. “It was a missed opportunity to talk about things that really mattered.”

Graham charged that the debate moderators, Bret Baier, Chris Wallace and Megyn Kelly, were particularly unfair in their questioning of Trump, the outspoken billionaire who is leading many GOP polls.

“At the end of the day, ask the man a question that explains his position and his solutions rather than a ten-minute question that describes him as the biggest bastard on the planet,” Graham quipped.

The South Carolina lawmaker said that Thursday night’s contest resulted in a lost chance at addressing crucial issues like immigration reform.

“Did you really understand our position on immigration after this debate?” Graham asked.

Graham is right. It wasn’t that the Fox moderators–mostly Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace, and to a lesser extent, Brett Baier–asked “tough” questions. I’m all for tough questions. But there’s a difference between “tough” and “snarky,” and I felt there was far more of the latter than the former.

Kelly and Wallace in particular spent precious air time framing their questions as ad hominem attacks rather than a quest to probe serious issues. Indeed, virtually every major question posed by the Fox moderators began with an insult to each candidate. For example, Kelly’s opening question of Donald Trump was this silliness:

“One of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s filter,” Kelly said to Trump in the opening minutes. “However, that is not without its downsides, in particular, when it comes to women. You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.”

“Only Rosie O’Donnell,” Trump interjected to laughter.

“For the record, it was well beyond Rosie,” Kelly shot back, noting that Trump had told one contestant on “Celebrity Apprentice” that it would be a pretty picture to “see her on her knees.” “Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?” Kelly asked.

Was anyone really clamoring for clarification about Trump’s disparaging remarks about women he has opposed through the years, including his remarks on a reality TV show? I, for one, had many more important issues that I wanted to hear about, and Kelly’s decision to highlight this “women’s” issue seemed more designed to feed Democrats’ “war on women” impression of the GOP than anything else.

Or consider this Kelly’s put down of Dr. Ben Carson:

You are a successful neurosurgeon, but you admit that you have had to study up on foreign policy, saying there’s a lot to learn.

Your critics say that your inexperience shows. You’ve suggested that the Baltic States are not a part of NATO, just months ago you were unfamiliar with the major political parties and government in Israel, and domestically, you thought Alan Greenspan had been treasury secretary instead of federal reserve chair.

Aren’t these basic mistakes, and don’t they raise legitimate questions about whether you are ready to be president?

Did Kelly really need to catalog Carson’s misstatements? Would it not have been more efficient to simply ask him the legitimate question of whether he has the necessary foreign policy experience? If such misstatements are relevant (and I don’t think they are, as they happen all the time, by all candidates), should not similar misstatements by other candidates have been highlighted?

And why did the Fox moderators incessantly try to pit one GOP candidate against another? Were they simply trying to spark further ad hominem attacks? Chris Wallace, for example, asked this of Sen. Marco Rubio:

Senator Rubio, when Jeb Bush announced his candidacy for presidency, he said this: “There’s no passing off responsibility when you’re a governor, no blending into the legislative crowd.”

Could you please address Governor Bush across the stage here, and explain to him why you, someone who has never held executive office, are better prepared to be president than he is, a man who you say did a great job running your state of Florida for eight years.

Would it not have been more productive to simply ask Rubio why he has the necessary experience to be president, given his lack of executive experience? Why did Wallace think it would “add” to the debate to make a direct comparison to Bush, and not Walker, Christie, Perry, Kasich, Jindal or others with executive experience?

And then there was Wallace’s query of Sen. Ted Cruz:

Senator Cruz, your colleague, Senator Paul, right there next to you, said a few months ago he agrees with you on a number of issues, but he says you do nothing to grow the party. He says you feed red meat to the base, but you don’t reach out to minorities. You have a toxic relationship with GOP leaders in Congress. You even called the Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell a liar recently.

How can you win in 2016 when you’re such a divisive figure?

Why did Wallace think it was good form to focus Cruz on a statement made by Sen. Paul, rather than simply ask Cruz whether he could be sufficiently inclusive to attract a wide range of GOP and independent voters? If Wallace really wanted to know more about Sen. Paul’s statement and what Paul meant, should not the question have been directed at Sen. Paul? Again, there is a kernel of a relevant inquiry here, but the manner in which it was posed strikes me as unnecessarily argumentative, particularly at a first GOP debate, when voters simply want to hear from the candidates on their basic views about big issues.

And a final example, which was this zinger hurled by Wallace at Trump:

Mr. Trump, it has not escaped anybody’s notice that you say that the Mexican government, the Mexican government is sending criminals — rapists, drug dealers, across the border.

Governor Bush has called those remarks, quote, “extraordinarily ugly.”

I’d like you — you’re right next to him — tell us — talk to him directly and say how you respond to that and — and you have repeatedly said that you have evidence that the Mexican government is doing this, but you have evidence you have refused or declined to share.

Why not use this first Republican presidential debate to share your proof with the American people?

Why did Wallace need to highlight that Jeb Bush had called Trump’s remarks “extraordinarily ugly.” Why not simply say that, correctly, that Trump’s remarks have proven highly controversial, even within his own party? And then for Wallace to instruct Trump to “talk to him directly and say how you respond to that” was simply inane.

Wallace couldn’t stop himself, though. He then posed a question to Gov. Kasich, trying to lure Kasich into attacking Trump:

Governor Kasich, I know you don’t like to talk about Donald Trump. But I do want to ask you about the merit of what he just said. When you say that the American government is stupid, that the Mexican government is sending criminals, that we’re being bamboozled, is that an adequate response to the question of illegal immigration?

But Kasich wisely refused to take Wallace’s bait, and one could almost feel Wallace’s disappointment.

This wasn’t an opportunity for Fox moderators to play favorites, attack the GOP field, regurgitate Democrats’ talking points, reiterate Democrats’ stereotypes about the GOP, and try to pit one candidate specifically against another. It wasn’t an opportunity for Fox moderators to “shine,” to show how smart they are, or to one-up specific candidates. I don’t care one whit which GOP candidates the moderators preferred personally. All I wanted was tough questions, sticking to the big issues of the day, and a “fair and balanced” opportunity to hear from each candidate. What I got instead was snarky, unprofessional, unnecessarily ad hominem questions that seemed more designed to embarrass than inform. I could have gotten that from CNN. 

Et tu, Fox News?