Subtitle: "When the audience boos your reasonable questions and you have no follow-up, you know you suck at running a debate."
Salon.com has a stinging critique of the management of the Wednesday GOP Presidential debate. The moderators are charged with not doing their homework and not coordinating very well in their management of the candidates. I would defend the moderators by likening their task to that of herding cats, but for one thing. I have no love for cats but that defense would be a mortal insult to the species. Instead let me liken the task to management of a herd of hungry velociraptors in a butcher shop egged on by a coliseum of cranky Christians out for blood.
You think that's too harsh? Check this out.
[It started with] the early fact-checking flub. Moderator Quintanilla asked Ben Carson about his connection with Mannatech, a medical supplement maker accused of false advertising. Carson denied a connection, calling the question "total propaganda." This seemed to catch Quintanilla flat-footed, but he observed that Carson can be seen in a photo on Mannatech’s website, with the company’s logo over his shoulder. Where did that come from, if not endorsement of the product? "If somebody put me on their homepage, they did it without my permission," Carson responded. Quintanilla tried to go further, somewhat ineptly—he did not say, as he could have, "The Wall Street Journal unearthed a video where you are vouching for this product; what is that, if not a connection or endorsement of Mannatech?" But he does ask whether or not Carson’s appearance in the ads demonstrates poor judgment. Before Carson can even get anywhere, the audience boos Quintanilla—which is all Carson needed to smile and ignore the question.
The author of the salon.com article, Sonia Saraiya, reflects:
In the last few hours, as I’ve been writing this, I’ve been wondering about that booing. What is the crowd upset about? Do they think it’s unfair to ask Carson if he’s fit for the presidency? Or do they firmly believe that he’s blameless about Mannatech? It’s understandable that Carson has vocal supporters in the audience, but Carson wasn’t debating Quintanilla—he’s debating Trump, and Marco Rubio, and Carly Fiorina, and a half-dozen other people. And yet the audience responds as if the real enemy here is one of three people trying to add depth and substance to the debate.
(The latter observation is consistent with "the rise of anti-knowledge" covered by Scriber in a separate post today.)
Here's the concluding paragraph.
CNBC could have been prepared as if for the Nuremberg trials and it still wouldn’t have been enough; the crowd wasn’t interested in the truth. And though all the candidates know that to some degree, last night was Marco Rubio’s night to shine as a manipulator of the conservative media entertainment complex—that particular doublespeak that rails against the mainstream media while dominating it with tortured logic and dog-whistling. Carson calls Quintanilla’s perfectly legitimate question "propaganda." Trump tells a story about how the debate was formed, and Harwood states unequivocally that the story is not true. So Trump—like a growling mastiff—shouts Harwood down and literally postures in a show of bullying strength. Governors Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee address the viewing audience with the implied nudge-and-wink that indicates they are addressing just certain demographics of the viewing audience. And Marco Rubio, in the particular pandering smarm that he has perfected over the years in Florida, first insists Harwood has his numbers wrong and then admits that "numerically," Harwood is right, but something-something, defeat Hillary, reverse Obama’s policies, and never, ever, raise taxes. And the live audience at the Coors Events Center ate it up. This wasn’t a debate—because the audience didn’t want a debate, so CNBC didn’t prepare for one. Instead we got two more hours of loud discussion that is so far removed from what this country really needs or wants that it might as well be on the next planet over. This wasn’t a debate, this was a circus. And we are the clowns.
h/t Jana Eaton