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Thursday, October 19, 2023
MRC Defends First Trump-Free GOP Presidential Debate
Topic: Media Research Center

The first Republican presidential debate received its fair share of defense from the Media Research Center, even though Donald Trump refused to take part. Nicholas Fondacaro served up some pre-debate defense (and a touch of Brian Stelter Derangement Syndrome) in an Aug. 23 post:

Fox News Channel has long been the cable news king that blows MSNBC and CNN out of the water in terms of ratings most hours of the day. And when a TV news outlet hosts a major political event like the Republican primary debate on Wednesday night, they’re set to rake in millions of more views than they normally do. With that as the backdrop, MSNBC’s Alex Wagner ended the Tuesday night edition of her eponymous show by literally begging her viewers not to change the channel to watch the debate.

The discussion of debate ratings was delved into by her guest, former CNN media janitor Brian Stelter when he clownishly predicted that Fox News (his favorite hate object) was only going to get a small bump in viewership because former President Trump was skipping the debate:

Trump is going to cut the debate ratings in half. That's the virtual guarantee. The ratings were 24 million back in 2015 when Trump was on stage – center stage – as you point out last week insulting Megyn Kelly. 24 million. Fox will be lucky to have four to five million viewers watch this debate. And so, Trump's absence is going to be felt.

Thinking he was being insightful, Stelter noted that “most people will just skip it” as what happens with debate no matter who hosts it.

After the debate, Bill D'Agostino whined about how MSNBC talked about the debate and criticized not only Ron DeSantis but Vivek Ramaswamy as well:

Former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki hosted MSNBC’s midnight hour of post-debate coverage, and she invited a predictably dullard-ridden panel to join in the festivities. Among them was Vanity Fair writer Molly Jong-Fast, who laid into not just the candidates themselves, but the Republican voter base as well.


MSNBC analyst Anthony Coley hammered the candidates for supposedly lying about abortion — though he neglected to provide any specifics: “There were a lot of lies tonight, a lot of extreme positions, lies particularly on abortion.”

Jong-Fast then chimed in with her take on the debate: “It was just a mess. I mean, it was a dumpster fire.”

She smeared the voters in the audience while attempting to make sense of Vivek Ramaswamy’s performance:

My theory about Vivek is that he is on Earth 2. He will say the crazy, populist, Q-anon stuff that the base loves. But these other people are too genteel, and maybe they’re too interested in winning a general, so they won’t say that stuff. But Vivek said stuff that was completely insane, and from another planet. And that’s the stuff Trump says. And so I think they got excited, because they were like, “This is a guy like our guy.”

Later, Psaki wheeled in MSNBC Republican David Jolly to trash Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s performance: “David, you’ve actually been at candidate forums with Ron DeSantis… what did you think of his performance, and was anything about it surprising to you?”

“No, nothing surprising,” Jolly replied, adding, “He’s a weird dude. I mean, that’s the bottom line. He’s just a weird guy, and America saw that tonight.”

Mark Finkelstein similarly complained that "Morning Joe" "was very tough on Vivek Ramaswamy" after the debate:

With perhaps the nastiest line of the morning, in a double swipe at Vivek and the GOP, Charlie Sykes of The Bulwark said:

"The reality is, he is a shallow, shameless, facile demagogue. Which means he's probably going to get a bump in the polls, in the Republican polls."

Making a boxing analogy, Al Sharpton piled on Vivek, saying that Vivek had good early rounds, but that he couldn't take a punch, and that Nikki Haley scored a TKO on him. That was a reference to Haley hitting Vivek with this line during the debate: "you have no foreign policy experience, and it shows." Ouch.

Nicholas Fondacaro grumbled that ABC's George Stepanopoulos called out Nikki Haley making a crack about Biden's purportedly mental deterioration:

Possibly because of the strong showing from most of the GOP field during their first debate the previous evening, ABC Good Morning America co-anchor George Stephanopoulos was in a sour mood on Thursday and took his rage out on candidate and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Her crime? Bringing attention to President Biden’s advanced age, how it’s obvious that he’s slipping mentally, and how that’s not good for America to have a leader like that.

Getting way over his skis with the fate of former President Trump, Stephanopoulos pressed her on, “Why would you vote for a convicted felon to be president of the United States?” Haley responded that she was “not comfortable with a President Kamala Harris becoming president. I think we would be in a far worse situation.” She also told Stephanopoulos that he was getting ahead of himself.

Alex Christy groused that non-right-wing outlets found the debate to be rather meainingless since Trump didn't take part:

When it comes to elections, the media should be pro-debate, especially when no votes have officially been cast, but the post-non Trump debate coverage on Thursday’s Good Morning America on ABC and CBS Mornings dismissed the whole thing as a “fantasy land” that resembled a “job interview” in which the candidate has already been selected.

On GMA, chief Washington correspondent Jonathan Karl summarized the previous evening’s festivities, “we got to see a world, maybe it's a fantasy land. We got to see a world where Donald Trump was not a candidate, for a moment, for about 90 minutes in that debate you saw eight other Republicans debating. His name was not mentioned.”


Wednesday’s debate does not have to be a “fantasy land” or sham job interview. The media could have substantive discussions on domestic and foreign policy or give the non-Trump candidates more air time, but they choose not to.

Tim Graham spent his Aug. 25 column complaining that the non-right-wing media pointed out how much the debate sucked:

The first Republican presidential debate was feisty and substantive, because Fox News overwhelmingly focused on policy issues that voters care about. A debate was seriously overdue, because the television networks have shut out coverage of policy issues like they were protecting the public from a deadly plague.

Even so, the same journalists who uncork grand proclamations about how democracy is precious seem to suggest this debate was a waste of time. Donald Trump is so far ahead in very premature polling, why bother? This neatly lines up with Team Trump’s talking points.


If journalists really cared about democracy and voting, they wouldn’t be so mercilessly quick to declare everyone except Trump is toast. If they all think Trump is “dangerous to democracy,” as CBS morning co-host Tony Dokoupil insisted to Nikki Haley, why do they sound like debates (with or without Trump) are beside the point?

Christy returned to huff that it was pointed out that the candidates didn't want to talk about the one who wasn't there:

MSNBC The 11th Hour guest host Ali Velshi, Washington Postcolumnist Jennifer Rubin, and presidential historian Michael Beschloss were all greatly distressed on Thursday as they reacted to the “weird” GOP primary debate from the night before that focused on policy differences between the candidates instead of obsession over Donald Trump and “the anti-democratic tendencies that have taken over the party.”

Beginning with Rubin, Velshi proclaimed “it was weird that they were starting to have sort of what sounded like some policy discussion when, actually, the split screen here is that while you were all debating, becoming president of the United States, the guy who is trouncing you all is indicted and going to be arrested again.”

A group of Republicans who want to replace Trump talking about why voters should choose them instead of Trump was not weird in any way, but that didn’t stop Rubin from claiming: “It is and I found the coverage of the debate terribly concerning and unserious. It doesn't matter whether one candidate got a little bit more time or one guy, maybe will go up in the polls.”

Jeffrey Lord's Aug. 26 column tried to protect Trump from both the media and the other republican candidates:

Taken all together, the media coverage is all over the lot.  Which, in fact, says something about the state of the GOP race in the media. History records that when there is an overwhelming verdict from a debate or an election, the media, left or right, is quick to react. Celebrating for the victors, complaining for the losers.

And, of course, there is the curious fact that the more legal troubles Trump has, the more his poll numbers go up.  It is safe to say that there are Americans aplenty who see the arrest and charging of Trump as a serious assault on the Constitution and their own freedoms. The media become angry when Trump's challengers join Trump in decrying Democrats weaponizing the legal system in a blatant campaign to get Biden re-elected. They want the challengers to join them in cheering on the indictments.

But it’s August of 2023. A full year-plus from the 2024 election. Presidential elections no matter who is involved or in which election cycle they appear are challenging, to say the least. It is far more challenging in this year of mixing primary dates with court dates.

Lord seemed to be frustrated that there was "no media consensus" that he could reliably peg a right-wing column on.

Posted by Terry K. at 10:21 PM EDT

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