Debating Fox News moderation of GOP prime-time debate

Fox News Channel tried two different approaches to political debate moderation yesterday: a rather straightforward approach by Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum in the second-tier candidates’ debate and a far more pointed and combative approach to the first-tier candidates.

Evaluating which was the better approach depends on the criteria being applied.  From the standpoint of entertaining, memorable moments, the work of Bret Baier, Chris Wallace, and especially Megyn Kelly in the prime-time debate triumphed.  It was far livelier and more entertaining than I expected.  Many respected conservative commentators were upset.  The first-round debate was a snoozer by comparison, though it was fully competent and in line with expectations of large-scale political debates.  I suspect that Fox got great ratings for the prime-time debate, and in the end, that is what matters to Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch, and the stockholders.

Donald Trump and his many supporters bristled at what they saw as attacks on the front-runner by the first question, which asked if any of the participants would not pledge to support the GOP nominee, and by Megyn Kelly’s later question, which confronted Trump with disparaging comments he had made about the physical appearance of some females.  He was not pleased, calling the latter question a “not very nice question.”  Given the Democrats’ emphasis on their imagined war on women, this is an issue he needs to addressed over and over again.  Kelly did him a favor by bringing it up now and giving him a chance to hone his response.

As for the first, his explanation afterwards was pure “Art of the Deal” logic: why should he give up leverage?  And for this, I cannot fault him.  His major selling point to voters is that he is capable of driving hard bargains.  And his rile right now is to force the GOP establishment to address immigration in particular, and the shameful role the establishment plays in shutting out the base from its exercise of power.  Even if he and his supporters believe the opening question was designed to hurt him, it did enable him to demonstrate his prowess at his major selling point.

My major complaint is the lack of airtime equality.  Ben Carson and especially Ted Cruz did not seem to get adequate access.  But there will be more debates, and neither man showed any sign of falling by the wayside.  Trump, because he is the clear front-runner, got the most attention.

One further thought.  The Democrats have announced a plan to have six debates of their own, although Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders are demanding more.  The performance of Fox News makes a strong case that they should be allowed an opportunity to host at least one of the Democrat debates.  The left loves to argue that Fox is in the pocket of conservatives and the GOP.  The questioning last night proves that they are something close to their slogan of fair and balanced when it comes to putting the GOP on the spot.  If the Dems try to shut out Fox, they will open themselves up to criticism from the likes of Frank Bruni of the New York Times, who raved over the show.

Fox News Channel tried two different approaches to political debate moderation yesterday: a rather straightforward approach by Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum in the second-tier candidates’ debate and a far more pointed and combative approach to the first-tier candidates.

Evaluating which was the better approach depends on the criteria being applied.  From the standpoint of entertaining, memorable moments, the work of Bret Baier, Chris Wallace, and especially Megyn Kelly in the prime-time debate triumphed.  It was far livelier and more entertaining than I expected.  Many respected conservative commentators were upset.  The first-round debate was a snoozer by comparison, though it was fully competent and in line with expectations of large-scale political debates.  I suspect that Fox got great ratings for the prime-time debate, and in the end, that is what matters to Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch, and the stockholders.

Donald Trump and his many supporters bristled at what they saw as attacks on the front-runner by the first question, which asked if any of the participants would not pledge to support the GOP nominee, and by Megyn Kelly’s later question, which confronted Trump with disparaging comments he had made about the physical appearance of some females.  He was not pleased, calling the latter question a “not very nice question.”  Given the Democrats’ emphasis on their imagined war on women, this is an issue he needs to addressed over and over again.  Kelly did him a favor by bringing it up now and giving him a chance to hone his response.

As for the first, his explanation afterwards was pure “Art of the Deal” logic: why should he give up leverage?  And for this, I cannot fault him.  His major selling point to voters is that he is capable of driving hard bargains.  And his rile right now is to force the GOP establishment to address immigration in particular, and the shameful role the establishment plays in shutting out the base from its exercise of power.  Even if he and his supporters believe the opening question was designed to hurt him, it did enable him to demonstrate his prowess at his major selling point.

My major complaint is the lack of airtime equality.  Ben Carson and especially Ted Cruz did not seem to get adequate access.  But there will be more debates, and neither man showed any sign of falling by the wayside.  Trump, because he is the clear front-runner, got the most attention.

One further thought.  The Democrats have announced a plan to have six debates of their own, although Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders are demanding more.  The performance of Fox News makes a strong case that they should be allowed an opportunity to host at least one of the Democrat debates.  The left loves to argue that Fox is in the pocket of conservatives and the GOP.  The questioning last night proves that they are something close to their slogan of fair and balanced when it comes to putting the GOP on the spot.  If the Dems try to shut out Fox, they will open themselves up to criticism from the likes of Frank Bruni of the New York Times, who raved over the show.