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

The Media Research Center (plus the DeSantis Defense Brigade) not only tried to shield Republican presidential candidates from criticism after the first debate, it defended Donald Trump hanging out with Tucker Carlson instead of taking part.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 1/3/2024

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 Stephanopoulos 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 meaningless 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 and didn't stick to the Fox News narrative about how great it supposedly was:

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 Post columnist 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.

Trump-Carlson interview

In addition to defending the debate and defending Trump after his (fourth) indictment, the MRC also had to deal with Trump skipping the debate to do an interview with disgraced ex-Fox News host Tucker Carlson (whom the MRC also loves). Jeffrey Lord used his Aug. 19 column to cheer Trump's refusal to join the debate in favor of the Carlson interview: "And....bam! In a blink the former president and popular former Fox News host upended a 63-year old formula for televised debates." He further gushed:

But put aside the politics of all this. The really notable fact here is that a major presidential candidate and a serious media host are getting around the once golden media model of a major network hosting a presidential conversation, and doing this by presumably using serious 21st century technology.  Which is to say -- no more of the 20th century media model of various network correspondents sitting across from a collection of presidential candidates to moderate a debate televised by this or that network.

In short? Who needs Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS or NBC to have a presidential debate/discussion - when all you need is a popular host, a candidate and 21st century media technology?


So make no mistake. The announcement Friday afternoon of the Trump-Tucker conversation has an importance far beyond the politics of the moment. It is, in fact, a glimpse into the future of presidential debates or conversations as presented by 21st century - not 20th century - media technology.

Welcome to the future!

An Aug. 21 post by Nicholas Fondacaro was surprisingly critical of Trump for doing so, but it still criticized that the snubbing was covered in non-right-wing media:

Showing disrespect for Republican primary voters, former President Trump announced Sunday night that he would not be attending the first Republican primary debate later in the week with reports suggesting he was planning to counterprogram the event with an interview with Tucker Carlson. ABC’s Good Morning America and CBS Mornings welcomed the internal party drama on Monday as they hyped Trump’s attempt to upstage the GOP debate.

“Donald Trump has been back and forth on this. With just 48 hours to go, the former President clear he will not only skip the first Republican debate but even suggesting he might sit out future debates, too,” boasted senior congressional correspondent Rachel Scott.

Fondacaro then tried to explain away a poll showing Trump with a huge lead over his Republican challengers:

In much the same way, CBS Mornings co-host Tony Dokoupil noted, “Donald Trump is saying he will not appear in the first Republican debate this week. And in fact, he may not appear in any of the debates during the Republican primary.”

Dokoupil proclaimed the findings of a new CBS News/YouGov poll “might help explain why” Trump decided to avoid facing his primary challengers. “Our survey found 62 percent of likely primary voters support Donald Trump. Governor Ron DeSantis is second, just 16 percent in his column. Others in single digits,” he claimed.

It’s worth noting that the margin of error was 5.7 percent. While the math might make it seem as though things were still pretty stable in terms of candidate positioning, the high MoE meant there was a fundamental problem in how the poll was conducted.

Given that the poll shows Trump ahead of his nearest challenger by 46 points, quibbling about the poll's margin of error being roughly one-tenth of that is irrelevant.

Later that day, Fondacaro whined again that CNN noted that Trump was skipping the debate, bizarrely blaming CNN for reporting it (not Trump for skipping it), sniping at the channel under the headline "Ankle Biter":

Chronically the third-place cable news outlet, CNN was the little goblin biting at the ankles of Fox News, the cable news giant. So, of course, it brought CNN great joy to see that former President Trump had chosen to avoid taking part in the first Republican presidential debate, which was hosted by their rival. Senior media correspondent Oliver Darcy beamed on Monday as he boasted about Trump’s absence possibly hurting Fox News’s ratings.

“In two days, Republican presidential hopefuls are set to take the stage in the first primary debate. This one's in Milwaukee. But the front-runner, former President Trump, he will not be there,” announced co-host Victor Blackwell.

Blackwell also noted that Trump would be attempting to do some counter-programming. “Sources tell CNN the former President plans to sit down for an interview with former Fox host, Tucker Carlson instead. The interview is set to air on X, formerly known as Twitter, around the same time as the debate,” he added.

Being CNN’s toy-sized attack dog, Darcy yipped about how much Trump’s absence was supposedly going to hurt the first-place network:

The MRC irrationally hates Darcy because he escaped the right-wing media bubble and started doing actual journalism.

All was forgiven, though, when Trump spouted the MRC's pet narratives during the Carlson interview, as Tim Kilcullen crowed in an after-interview post:

Former President Donald Trump touted an MRC poll that exposed Big Tech’s nefarious role in stealing the 2020 election through relentless censorship.

Trump didn't mince words when talking with independent journalist Tucker Carlson about the Biden family laptop scandal, rampant Big Tech censorship and the infamous 2020 election Wednesday night. “By the way, you’re talking about cheating on the election?” Trump asked Carlson. “McLaughlin & Fabrizio—great pollsters—they said a thing like that, plus other things, meant anywhere from 10 to 17% of the vote would change.”

Commissioned by the MRC, the poll revealed that one in six voters (17%) for then-candidate Joe Biden would not have voted for the scandal-plagued career politician had they been made aware of his misconduct and Trump’s successes. 9.4 percent of those surveyed would have changed their vote based on the laptop scandal alone. The study surveyed 1,750 Biden voters in seven swing states which would have gone for then-President Trump had Big Tech not censored these crucial stories.

Kilcullen didn't mention that the MRC bought these polls from Trump's own election pollster, McLaughlin & Associates, and a polling firm founded by former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, the Polling Company, to manufacture these results, raising questions about their accuracy and bias.(And, yes, he called Carlson an "independent journalist" with a straight face.)

Kevin Tober followed that with a post promoting the "wildest moments" from the interview:

In the only newsworthy counterprogramming of the first GOP presidential debate Wednesday night, former Fox News host Tucker Carlson interviewed former President Donald Trump on his show "Tucker on X." While the sitdown lasted over 46 minutes, there were a few wild moments that are sure to grab headlines.

"Why aren’t you at the Fox News debate tonight in Milwaukee?" Carlson asked Trump in his first question of the interview. In response, Trump explained that "a lot of people have been asking me that, and many people said you shouldn’t do them. But you see the polls that have come out and I’m leading by 50 and 60 points, and some of them are at one and zero, and two. And I’m saying do I sit there for an hour or two hours?"

"Whatever it’s going to be and get harassed by people that shouldn’t even be running for President? Should I be doing that? And a network that isn’t particularly friendly to me, frankly they were backing Ron Desanctimonious like crazy and now they’ve given up on him. It’s a lost cause," Trump explained.

In an Aug. 24 post, Tober talked up the MRC's favorite deadbeat dad defending his boss:

During a special edition of Meet the Press on NBC News Now, anchor Chuck Todd decided to ask Trump campaign senior advisor Jason Miller if former Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump were embracing the idea of violent conflict during a sitdown chat between the two on Twitter. Miller didn't take Todd's biased questioning lying down and told Todd he was "framing it incorrectly" and that it was "an idiotic question."

"I want to ask you about this questioning from Tucker Carlson. I guess sort of—talking up the idea of a violent—some sort of violent conflict over this campaign," Todd proclaimed. "Is that something the former President is embracing?"

Miller told Todd the answer was no and that "I think you are framing it incorrectly."

"Respectfully that's an idiotic question to even go in," Miller added.

Tober concluded by hyping that "As of publication, the video has over 107 million views" on Twitter -- but censored the fact that Twitter's view counter is utterly meaningless.

Tom Olohan served up his own post gushing over Trump spouting conservatively correct narratives during the interview:

Former President Donald Trump went after the reduced quality of life and narrowed choices that accompany environmentalist proposals hard last night.

Trump skipped the Republican primary debate Wednesday and sat down with podcast host Tucker Carlson on X to discuss the state of the race, election interference by Big Tech, and whether or not Jeffrey Epstein killed himself. During this discussion, Trump pointed out the threat environmentalists pose to the American way of life and how he dealt with that during his presidency. After making clear that the left wants to limit our choices, Trump said, “The new thing is your heating systems in the house. They don't want you to have a modern day heating system. They want you to use a heating system that will cost you at least $10,000 to buy and won't work very well. You know, none of this stuff works as well.”


Finally, Trump broke down how he confronted the Environmental Protection Agency over regulations negatively affecting Americans' way of life. In particular, Trump referenced restrictions on water usage for showers, washing machines, sinks, and dishwashers, saying that “and I voided all of that,” while discussing the damage done by the regulation.

Olohan didn't say how much Trump paid him for this campaign ad.

DeSantis Defense Brigade assembles again
While the MRC's DeSantis Defense Brigade was curiously silent about Trump mocking its favorite candidate, it was busy elsewhere around the debate, giving him treatment above and beyond the defense it gave to the debate in general. A pre-debate post by Clay Waters complained that the New York Times pointed out that in previous debates, Ron DeSantis has been "known to bristle under criticism. His opponents will hope to score viral moments highlighting his defensiveness and casting him as awkward and robotic." Then came defense mode: "Reading the Times’ coverage of DeSantis, one could be amazed how this bumbler won two elections for governor of the third-largest state -- the last by almost 20 percentage points."

The MRC's first post-debate post was press release-style DeSantis stenography courtesy of Tom Olohan:

George Soros did not attend the Republican Presidential Primary, but that didn’t stop DeSantis from airing out the billionaire’s dirty laundry.

Republican 2024 presidential candidates duked it out on the debate stage Wednesday, each trying to convince Americans that he or she has what it takes to resurrect the economy, fix the border crisis and can bring America forward. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis touted his record of going after George Soros for spending money to elect radical pro-crime district attorneys in Florida. "These hollowed out cities, this is a symptom of America’s decline. And one of the biggest reasons is because you have George Soros funding these radical left-wing district attorneys. They get into office and say they're not going to prosecute crimes they disagree with.”

Tober whined about more criticism of DeSantis in the second post-debate post:

Just minutes into MSNBC’s post-GOP debate analysis late Wednesday night co-hosts Rachel Maddow, Nicolle Wallace, and Alex Wagner declared Florida governor and Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis one of the night’s losers.

“Can I just say something? I think DeSantis was absolutely terrible,” Maddow proclaimed as if anyone on the Republican side of the aisle cared what she had to say.

Wallace chimed in to pile on: “What’s happening is that he has lost the fancy donors who were like DeSantis is gonna answer our Trump coup plotter problem.” “No, he’s not! He didn't do anything tonight to change that,” Wallace added.


Wagner jumped in to agree with Maddow and Wallace and proclaimed DeSantis is “so bad at politics.”

She said this despite presumably knowing that DeSantis won reelection in Florida by 20 percentage points.

When the New York Times dropped a story during the debate on DeSantis' college years at Yale, pointing out that he is "rail[ing] against his own Ivy League degrees while milking them for access and campaign cash," Waters returned to complain:

As the opening round of the 2024 presidential campaign kicked off Wednesday night with the first Republican debate, Tuesday’s lead New York Times story was a 7,500-word investigative epic by Nicholas Confessore, Times reporter and MSNBC political analyst, on the highest polling Republican on the lectern that night.

The mission was clear from the headline: 2024 presidential candidate, Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, was an elitist hypocrite. “How Ron DeSantis Joined the ‘Ruling Class’ -- and Turned Against It,” it read.


Confessore relayed some lurid details of the “hell week” held by DeSantis’s old fraternity which, if applied in nonpartisan fashion by the press, would surely embarrass a good number of sitting politicians. He uncovered a bogus insight into DeSantis’s psyche:

....Today, some of the former brothers and pledges regard Mr. DeSantis’s behavior as foreshadowing a comfort with power -- and with using it to bully others.

Waters didn't explain why that observation was "bogus," given DeSantis' clear bullying behavior toward Disney and the LGBTQ community in Florida.

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