There are a lot of stories debating the winners and losers on the stage at the Republican debate on Wednesday. While some candidates definitively marked themselves as stronger than the others, the real battle was not happening between the candidates on stage: it was between the candidates and the moderators.
Given that CNBC is owned by the same parent company, NBC Universal News Group, as MSNBC, a notoriously left-wing outlet, it’s not especially surprising that the moderators would not be out to help the candidates. That being said, many of the candidates on the stage felt that the moderators were out to attack individual candidates, and audience members tended to agree.
Some of the questions for the candidates seemed to be very personal. John Hardwood actually asked Donald Trump if his campaign was a “comic book version of a presidential campaign.” This question didn’t really accomplish anything in discussing Trump’s stances, but was meant to provoke Trump into a memorable rant that is so typical of his debate performances.
The candidates were quick to call out the moderators. Rubio was the first person to mention bias in the media, in reference to the Sun-Sentinel’s criticism of his voting record in the Senate. However, this theme ends up being repeated throughout the debate, as Cruz brings it back to the moderators, saying “the questions that have been asked in this debate illustrate why Americans don’t trust the media.”
It comes back to Rubio when he says his most iconic line of the evening: “I know the Democrats have the ultimate super PAC. It’s called the mainstream media.” This line eerily echoes what Fox News pundits say on an almost daily basis about their competitors.
Although some of the especially pointed questions the moderators asked were more poignant examples of bias, they are indicative of a larger problem. Bias is a big problem in the media because the media has control of the three major techniques of persuasion, framing, priming, and agenda setting, that affect how the American public sees political figures and different issues. In addition, 90 percent of media comes from the same six sources, meaning that this bias infiltrates the opinions of the American public almost completely.
While it’s impossible to completely eliminate bias, there are huge conflicts of interest within the major media outlets. Some media outlets refuse to report on stories that impact their parent companies, but others, most notably the NBC family on the left and the Fox News family on the right, simply choose to be extraordinarily partisan in order to attract viewers on the extremes of each party.
Each media outlet’s primary goal is to make money, and they do that by picking a side and reporting on issues that suit their company’s needs. But the public response to this debate proves that the American public is not going to tolerate such blatant attempts at having such an opinionated presence in a debate that should be between the candidates.