Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus informed NBC News chairman Andrew Lack today that the party is “suspending” its partnership with the network for the Feb. 26 Telemundo/National Review primary debate at the University of Houston.
“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,” Priebus wrote. “We simply cannot continue with NBC without full consultation with our campaigns.”
Some of the campaigns want changes after Wednesday night’s CNBC event.
“Debates are supposed to be established to help the people know the candidates… what their philosophy is,” Ben Carson told reporters Thursday. “What it’s turned into is a ‘gotcha’ opportunity to cast candidates in a negative light. That’s silly. That’s not really helpful.”
Carson hasn’t threatened an outright boycott of future debates, but said he’ll be consulting with other campaigns for a “change in format” free of “gotcha” questions.
Priebus told the NBC chief that “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 continued. “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.”
That was a question posed to Donald Trump.
“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.
“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.”
CNBC said in a statement after the debate that “people who want to be President of the United States should be able to answer tough questions.”
Priebus said that while the RNC is suspending its 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,” he told Lack.
“This is a disappointing development,” NBC said in a statement, vowing to “work in good faith to resolve this matter with the Republican Party.”