ConWebWatch home
ConWebBlog: the weblog of ConWebWatch
Search and browse through the ConWebWatch archive
About ConWebWatch
Who's behind the news sites that ConWebWatch watches?
Letters to and from ConWebWatch
ConWebWatch Links
Buy books and more through ConWebWatch

Debate Patrol At The MRC, Parts 3 and 4

The Media Research Center's coverage of the third and fourth Republican presidential debates involved pre-emptive attacks on one debate host that didn't hold up -- and it even criticized once-beloved NewsNation for how it handled the other debate.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 3/12/2024

As it did with the first two Republican presidential debates, the Media Research Center went into defense mode on behalf of the candidates for the third debate. Jorge Bonilla ran to the defense of Tim Scott in a Nov. 8 post:
As history has shown, moderators have a very hard time suppressing the urge to insert themselves into a debate. During tonight’s GOP presidential primary debate, NBC’s Lester Holt did just that, when asking Sen. Tim Scott a question on the economy.

WATCH as Holt tries to tell Scott that changes in economic policy don’t have an immediate impact on gas prices, only to quickly get schooled by Scott:


Holt tried, he really tried. Take note of the claim. “The idea”, said Holt, of increasing production isn’t enough to decrease prices. Scott folded that premise upon Holt’s head, Inception-like, by correctly pointing out that markets respond to the perception of confidence created by regulatory certainty.

We know this is true because of what happened to the price of gasoline after Election Night, 2020. The record reflects that it began to INCREASE based on the regulatory uncertainty that came with Biden’s election. And it really began to spike after Inauguration Day, 2021, the day he signed the executive order to tighten domestic energy production.

Facts are facts, no matter how much they may be despised by a legacy media anchor trying to insert himself into a presidential primary debate.

Actually, we don't know that is true, because correlation does not equal causation. Because so many factors in oil and gas prices depend on international factors and other things outside anyone's political control, it's highly unlikely that any increase in gas prices could be attributed solely to Biden getting elected. Also, it's not clear what Bonilla is talking about with his reference to Biden's "executive order to tighten domestic energy production"; it could be the executive order withdrawing the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline did not "tighten domestic energy production" because oil from Canada already arrives in the U.S. via rail. Facts are facts, right, Jorge?

Tom Olohan cheered that the candidates spouted the approved narrative and attacked fellow MRC enemy TikTok:

Multiple Republican candidates referred to TikTok as a corrupting influence and threat to Americans’ data privacy Wednesday night, while several called for a complete ban.

At the third Republican presidential debate on Nov. 8, radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt asked the five Republican 2024 presidential candidates where they stood on banning TikTok. The co-host cited an op-ed by Congressman Mike Gallagher (R-WI) in which he said called TikTok “predatory” and “controlled by our country’s preeminent adversary,” noting that the app is being used to divide and propagandize Americans. When Hewitt asked whether candidates agreed with Rep. Gallagher’s statements, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie laid into TikTok.


Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) also spoke out in support of a ban, both to protect young Americans’ data and to insulate users from Chinese propaganda. DeSantis said, "I'm concerned about the data that they're getting from our young people and what they're doing to pollute the minds of our young people."

Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) told the audience that “what we should do is ban TikTok, period,” but pivoted to explain that former President Trump had been hamstrung by the courts when he had attempted to do so. In lieu of a ban, Scott suggested, "If you cannot ban TikTok, you should eliminate the Chinese presence on the app, period."

Bonilla spent a Nov. 9 post complaining that MSNBC's "post-debate analysis featured dismay at the thought of candidates discussing (gasp) IDEAS and not flaying Donald Trump to their liking," further grumbling that host Stephanie Ruhle "is mad that the candidate field did not sufficiently entertain her. Substantive policy analysis is a Bad Thing now, inasmuch as it detracts from MSNBC’s raison d'être: to dump on Donald Trump and anyone who supports him or, in the case of GOP primary opponents, is deliberate and intentional about how they engage him. This is what Trump Derangement Syndrome looks like in 2023." Bonilla didn't explain how the candidates' refusal to talk about Trump must be considered anything other than avoidance.

Tim Graham spent a Nov. 9 post nitpicking debate fact-checks, such as this desperate gem:

Sen. Tim Scott said gas prices are “40% higher right now than they were just a little over two years ago.” Brian Cheung pounced: " This is false. A gallon of regular gas costs about $3.40 per gallon on average this week, compared with $3.41 per gallon in November 2021, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration."

He said "just a little over two years ago." Nitpickers. If he'd said "three years ago," they would have said part of that was under Trump.

Graham offered no evidence that a more generous definition of "a little over two years ago" would have in any way made Scott's claim any more accurate.

Curtis Houck whined that a debate that was skipped by the leading Republican candidate wasn't being taken seriously enough:

While NBC’s Today gave predictably sober, serious coverage Thursday to its Republican presidential debate from the night before, ABC’s Good Morning America lampooned the debate as a pointless trip into the “Twilight Zone” and “divorced from reality” and CBS Mornings dismissed its necessity given the “disciplined” and “smart” race being run by the Donald Trump campaign.

After a recap of the debate’s big moments from senior congressional correspondent Rachel Scott, co-host and former Clinton official George Stephanopoulos turned to chief Washington correspondent and soon-to-be three-time-bestselling anti-Trump author Jon Karl and complimented him for “hav[ing] the perfect headline for this debate: the Twilight Zone debate.”


Sure, Karl can huff and puff about the dangers of Trump, but no one should be bamboozled into thinking Karl isn’t in it for the Resistance cash and clicks and thus would be fine with infinite Trump campaigns.

As if Houck isn't in it for the right-wing cash and the clicks. He also identified nothing wrong with any of Karl's books.

Nicholas Fondacaro was upset that the debate was accurately identified as a contest for also-rans, not the main event:

MSNBC’s response to the previous two Republican presidential debates was to write them off as not worth anything and insist they knew who the nominee would be. And if you thought their tune would change just because their sister network, NBC was the one hosting the debate Wednesday night, you were very wrong. According to Last Word host Lawrence O’Donnell, the debate was held in the event former President Trump “chokes on a cheeseburger” and dies.

O’Donnell began his comments by bragging that this was “the first Republican debate I’ve watched” and “did not have to participate in any of this” because he was “luckily” enough to be “working at 10:00 p.m. during the previous Republican debates.”

“This is the debate for, you know, in case Trump chokes on a cheeseburger. That is what this debate is. If somehow, Trump falls out, it's going to be DeSantis or Haley. That’s what it looks like,” he decried the whole idea of GOP candidates speaking to GOP voters.

Unsurprisingly, Fondacaro did not criticize Trump for evading this opportunity to speak to GOP voters.

MRC actually liked an NBC debate

Long before the third GOP presidential debate took place, the MRC was complaining about NBC being allowed to host it. Geoffrey Dickens huffed in a June 12 post:

With more candidates jumping into the GOP race last week, decisions on which news outlets get to host the Republican primary debates should be coming soon.

Back on June 2, Axios reported NBC, led by Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, made a hard pitch to the RNC (back in February) to moderate one of the GOP primary debates to be presumably broadcast on NBC, MSNBC or CNBC.

However, the Axios story also reported Florida Republican Governor Ron Desantis has “been pushing back against” NBC hosting a GOP debate and with good reason given “MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell acknowledged ‘imprecise’ language….that implied DeSantis didn’t want slavery taught in schools.”

It’s not just DeSantis who should be wary of NBC unfairly rigging the debates. Every GOP presidential hopeful may want to think twice before accepting an invite to an NBC produced debate.

A review of the MRC’s archives shows a consistent and clear pattern of slanted questions to Republican candidates.


The pattern of bias is clear and established. Republican presidential hopefuls expecting NBC to change its tune for the 2023 GOP primary debates would be foolhardy at best.

As the debate neared, Dickens whined further in a Nov. 2 post:

NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt and Meet the Press host Kristen Welker are set to moderate (along with talk show host Hugh Hewitt) the third Republican primary debate on November 8 and, as NewsBusters warned before the NBC moderators were chosen, GOP voters should expect hostile questions that push a left-wing agenda and are hostile to conservatives and their policy positions.

MRC founder and President L.Brent Bozell challenged Holt and Welker in this letter.

In September, Welker took over Meet the Press moderating duties from Chuck Todd. To help Welker’s first episode, former President Donald Trump agreed to appear. In return, he faced the usual liberal fact-checking interruptions, especially when answering questions about abortion.
Bozell's letter, by the way, was little more than a condescending sneer at Holt and Welker, whom he clearly considers to be his moral inferior (despite his having fathered an insurrectionist). There are preening statements like "First, you must understand your role in this debate. It is to present opportunities to the candidates to differentiate themselves from each other." He gushed that his fellow right-wingers "love their country, believe in the dignity of every human being, and have the humility to give thanks to their Creator for making them in His image," presumably unlike Holt and Welker. He also demanded that the hosts sound and act like they work for Fox News, stick to right-wing talking points on issues and "frame" them in right-wing narratives, ultimately demanding that they exercise every ounce of self discipline you can muster to resist the habit of functioning like a Democrat [sic] political operative." Bozell also laughably added: I’m also willing to be schooled if I am wrong." He's lying; part of Bozell's right-wing schtick has always been to never admit being wrong (i.e., his silence when it was revealed that Tim Graham ghost-wrote his syndicated columns; one has to wonder if Graham wrote this letter too).

The MRC was gifted an in-debate hit from one of the candidates, as highlighted in a Nov. 8 post by Nicholas Fondacaro:

One of the fieriest moments of the third GOP Debate Wednesday night was when candidate and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy asked Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel if she wanted to come on stage a resign given the GOP’s sweeping election losses on Tuesday. He also called her out for awarding NBC the privilege of hosting a GOP debate despite how the network pushed the Trump-Russia Collusion Hoax.


Looking into the audience, possibly at McDaniel herself, he said he’d yield her the balance of his time if she wanted to announce her resignation. He also decried how she awarded NBC debate privileges:
You that matter, Ronna if you want to come on stage tonight, you want to look at the GOP voters in the eye and tell them you resign, I will turn over – yield my time to you. And frankly, look, the people there cheering for losing in the Republican Party, think about who’s moderating this debate. This should be Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan, and Elon Musk. We’d have 10 times the viewership asking questions that GOP primary voters actually care about and bring in more people into our party.
Ramaswamy drilled down by targeting moderator Kristen Welker. “I mean, we’ve got Kristen Welker here. Do you think the Democrats would hire Greg Gutfeld to host a Democratic debate? They would not do it,” he shouted.

In fact, the investigation into possible collusion between Trump and the Russians was not a "hoax," given that the Trump campaign had dozens of contacts with Russian operatives and campaign manager Paul Manafort leaked internal polling data to another Russian operative.

But a funny thing happened at the debate: it was good, even by MRC standards. Graham conceded as much in his Nov. 10 column:

Conservatives were up in arms that the Republican National Committee was allowing NBC News to moderate a presidential primary debate. Given NBC’s record of hostility to Republicans in debates and in general, it seemed like a terrible idea. As it turned out, it was a sober and serious debate with no remarkably hostile or silly questions.

But because Graham had been planning to write about how bad the debate was because it was on NBC and he could no longer do so, he had to figure out something else to write about. So he wined about one media commentator complaining that NBC partnered with right-wing radio syndicator Salem for the debate, which contributed a co-moderator in radio host Hugh Hewitt:

Minutes before midnight, after the NBC debate, CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy seconded Barr in his “Reliable Sources” newsletter under the headline “Normalized by NBC News.” Darcy groused: “Respected news organizations typically do not partner with right-wing companies known for trafficking in extremism. But NBC News chose another path. On Wednesday evening, the news organization hosted the third GOP debate alongside Salem Radio and Rumble, helping to elevate and normalize both of the far-right outfits.”

Darcy offered the same dire warning on October 17. “It’s no surprise that the GOP, which veered sharply to the right during Donald Trump’s presidency, would select Salem and Rumble as partners,” he wrote. “But it is striking that NBC News would agree to link arms with such organizations.”

What Darcy did not include in these fulminations was the reporting from Puck News that his own network had floated names of conservative media personalities who could serve as co-moderators of a CNN debate, including....Hugh Hewitt.

You will not be surprised that neither post by Dickens attacking NBC over the debate mentioned that it was partnering with Salem.

Graham lamented further that he couldn't complain about the debate in his Oct. 10 podcast:

What do we do at NewsBusters when the GOP debate moderators skip the gotcha questions? The NBC debate was fine. We predicted it might be like John Harwood's CNBC snark festival in 2015, but it wasn't anything like that. None of the questions were unfair or silly... like "Which of your fellow candidates would you 'vote off the island'?" The only question that drew some negative attention was Lester Holt suggested you couldn't make any policy move that could quickly change gas prices.

Presumably, there was no soul-searching about how the MRC shouldn't constantly and reflexively attack and smear all non-right-wing media as "biased.," nor any walking back of his colleagues' attacks on NBC over a purportedly unfair debate. We have also seen no apology from Bozell despite his claimed willingness to be "schooled if I am wrong." Right-wingers never apologize, remember?

Fourth debate

As far as the MRC is concerned, the loser of the fourth Republican presidential debate was ... NewsNation, the channel that aired it. That’s a surprise, considering how much the MRC is desperate to tell you how wonderful and purportedly unbiased NewsNation is (despite that fact that it features former Fox News figures both on camera and behind the scenes). The first shot at NewsNation was paired with a move from the MRC’s DeSantis Defense Brigade in a Dec. 6 post by Nicholas Fondacaro:

NewsNation was the new kid on the block in the television news space, and Wednesday was their first go at hosting a presidential debate. The moderators were NewNation’s [sic] Elizabeth Vargas, The Washington Free Beacon editor-in-chief Eliana Johnson, and Sirius XM podcaster Megyn Kelly. While NewsNation claimed not to have an agenda, it was hard to see it as the first question and a series of audio/visual mishaps all seemed to go against one of the Republican candidates in particular.

Unfortunately, things didn’t start well as Kelly kicked off the debate with a long-winded fastball at Florida Governor Ron DeSantis pressing him to get out of the race[:] […]

When DeSantis went to answer the question, the NewsNation control room had apparently messed with his microphone and had him sounding like a colony of bees in a vacuum cleaner. Some may argue that it was just an accident since he was the first to speak. But that issue should have been worked out in a pre-debate walkthrough when they hooked up the candidates and adjusted their audio levels.

There was another snafu almost 10 minutes later where, as DeSantis was going after former Ambassador Nikki Haley and Black Rock, the camera started shaking wildly (both incidents are included in the video accompanying this piece). DeSantis had already spoken and had not moved, so camera adjustments shouldn’t have been necessary. Again, that’s usually worked out in walkthroughs.

Those were the only noticeable audio/visual issues during the debate.

Jorge Bonilla weighed in with his own NewsNation complaint in a post a couple hours later:

Tonight was NewsNation’s first foray into hosting a presidential primary debate, and then running a post-debate analysis special. No small feat for what amounts to a brand new network. And with that, comes the opportunity for self-congratulation. Which, unfortunately, did not happen off-air.

Watch as the all-star panel headed by Chris Cuomo effusively congratulates itself on a job well-done:


In fairness, congratulations are in order. But it wasn’t like the event went off without a hitch, as our friend Nick Fondacaro pointed out. The start of the debate was marred by technical glitches that could have been averted with a walkthrough. Or one more walkthrough. But NewsNation recovered and delivered a more substantive debate with a better panel asking more of the kinds of questions you’d expect in a Republican primary debate (unlike the Reagan Library fiasco).

From there, it was on to praising candidates for dutifully reciting right-wing talking points. A post by Tom Olohan cheered how “presidential candidate Nikki Haley called for a TikTok ban citing rampant antisemitism on the app”; he made sure not to mention that Twitter/X, run by MRC fave Elon Musk, also has an anti-Semitism problem, some of it spread by Musk himself.

Alex Christy went into Defense Brigade mode to defend DeSantis over a reference to an older Republican president:

To close out the Wednesday GOP Presidential Debate, the Washington Free Beacon’s Eliana Johnson asked the candidates which former president they would draw inspiration from and for his choice, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis selected Calvin Coolidge. For some reason, PolitiFact decided to fact-check this.

DeSantis argued, “When Calvin Coolidge was president, “the country was in great shape,” but PolitiFact claimed it is more complicated. On one hand, PolitiFact notes, “Coolidge’s reputation has risen in the past two decades, especially among conservatives, who value his record of balanced budgets, low taxes, light regulation and limited government. Biographer Amity Shlaes, who chairs the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation, wrote that, under Coolidge, Americans began buying cars and electric appliances, and patents “increased dramatically.”

On the other, “Coolidge’s hands-off approach appeared to be reasonably popular with Americans. But the Roaring ’20s ended abruptly with the Great Depression five months after Coolidge left office. This sequence of events has been hard for historians to ignore: A periodic survey of historians currently places Coolidge 24th in the ranking of presidents, just below average.”

That survey PolitiFact cites also ranks Franklin Roosevelt as the nation’s third greatest president which says more about the people doing the ranking than FDR.


Was Coolidge a perfect president? No, none of them have been, but the economy performed great during his tenure and he understood the limits of the power of the office which is more than can be said of the current president. Most importantly, however, is that which president Ron DeSantis considers to be a worthy role model for his own presidency is an opinion.

Christy did not explain why an opinion can’t be fact-checked.

From there, it was on to the usual complaining that non-right-wing media weighed on the debate. Tim Graham grumbled that CNN said nice things about Haley:

CNN came out of the NewsNation Republican debate with a typical flourish: Republicans are seriously evil. Analyst Van Jones, who had a cup of coffee in the White House in the earliest days of President Obama, compared Nikki Haley to “Wonder Woman fighting off like a mob of like, supervillains.”

CNN host Kaitlan Collins thought DeSantis had a good debate, but there was a lot of yelling crosstalk, and “I think the most notable point was Chris Christie at the end saying picture Election Day and saying Donald Trump will not be someone who’s voting on that day because he is going to be a convicted felon.”

CNN has been savoring that idea for five years now.

Curtis Houck whined that the elephant who wasn’t in the room was talked about:

Following the fourth 2024 Republican presidential debate, the “big three” of ABC, CBS, and NBC shrugged Thursday morning not only at the notion they matter, but showed varying degrees of rage over the fact that the debate helmed by NewsNation’s Elizabeth Vargas, SiriusXM’s Megyn Kelly, and the Free Beacon’s Eliana Johnson wasn’t dominated by questions about Donald Trump and instead beset with pesky policy issues (like, say, the economy and Israel).

ABC’s Good Morning America was disgusted. Co-host and former Clinton official George Stephanopoulos falsely claimed Trump only came up from “time to time” and was “hardly mentioned after [he] said he would govern like a dictator on the first day”.[...]

Stephanopoulos then condescendingly added that “[i]t’s hard to think how much these debates even matter any more.”

Karl again gushed over his former ABC colleague: “Chris Christie, I thought, had a significant moment there, several significant moments. He’s clearly comfortable in being somebody who is not only not afraid to offend Donald Trump. He is not afraid to offend Donald Trump’s supporters, Donald Trump voters.”

On CBS Mornings, socialist co-host Tony Dokoupil had the same talking points, lamenting “most of [Trump’s] Republican rivals” were “reluctant to criticize him” and whining the four candidates who actually showed up to face questions “spent a lot of time slamming each other, more time doing that than criticizing” Trump.

Houck’s sole evidence that Dokoupil is “socialist” is that he did a single segment on income equality four years ago (the accuracy of which Houck did not dispute).

Christy then moved to comedy-cop mode to grouse in a Dec. 8 post that Seth Meyers didn’t have anything nice to say about the debate:

An annoyed Seth Meyers reacted to the Wednesday GOP presidential debate on the Thursday edition of Late Night on NBC by claiming that “no one gives a [bleep]” and that the four debaters were all a bunch of “blowhards.”

Citing current polling, Meyers wondered what the whole point was before sarcastically conceding that maybe he should give the non-Trump candidates some credit, “Now, in fairness, I shouldn’t be so glib I may disagree with these people, but they’ve stepped up to take on the responsibility of leadership, and who knows? Maybe there’s a chance they’ll beat Trump and become the nominee. So, I do think we should at least listen to what they have to say.”

Meyers then played a clip of Megyn Kelly opening the broadcast, “Welcome to the fourth and final—” but Meyers cut the clip short, “Just kidding. No one gives a [bleep].”

Claiming his dismissal was justified, Meyers continued, “Why should I– why should I act like any of these people are actually running against Donald Trump when they won’t even act like they’re running against Donald Trump. They spent the whole debate fighting with each other like pigeons fighting over a French fry in the parking lot of a restaurant that is owned by a much bigger pigeon. In case you missed it — sorry because you missed it, here’s a quick recap of all these dweebs taking shots at each other.”


Of course, Republican candidates are going to try to tailor their message in a way that appeals to Republican voters and running around sounding like Seth Meyers is not the way to victory.

Christy didn’t explain how the need for a Republican candidate running against Donald Trump to say how he or she would be different from Trump equates to “sounding like Seth Meyers.”

Send this page to:

Bookmark and Share
The latest from

In Association with
Support This Site

home | letters | archive | about | primer | links | shop
This site © Copyright 2000-2024 Terry Krepel