Republican Party Suspends Partnership With NBC News Over CNBC Debate

GOP Debate - H 2015
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GOP Debate - H 2015

"We simply cannot continue with NBC without full consultation with our campaigns."

The Republican Party is putting its relationship with NBC News on hold. In a Friday letter to NBC News chairman Andy Lack, posted on the party's website, RNC chairman Reince Priebus said that the GOP will not be participating in the planned Feb. 26 debate — citing the questions at the recent CNBC-hosted debate as the reason.

To be sure, that debate is quite a ways off. It's after both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, but it's clear that the party is going hard on NBC News for the Oct. 28 debate. Priebus previously said that the moderators "should be ashamed" for the line of questioning — which prompted frontrunners Donald Trump and Ben Carson to spar over key financial issues.

"This is a disappointing development," read a Friday NBC News statement. "However, along with our debate broadcast partners at Telemundo we will work in good faith to resolve this matter with the Republican Party."

CNBC president Mark Hoffman reports to NBCUni CEO Steve Burke. Lack, to whom Priebus addressed his letter, has oversight of NBC News and MSNBC.

CNBC, which saw the showdown set ratings records for the financial cable news net, had previously issued the following statement: "People who want to be president of the United States should be able to answer tough questions."

The RNC last year threatened to box NBC News and CNN out of the presidential debates over planned projects about Hillary Clinton. CNN was planning a documentary and NBC briefly had a scripted miniseries in development. Neither project went forward and the matter was dropped. But the skirmish generated headlines well ahead of the primary debate process - and before Trump began using the media so deftly to speak to TV viewers. (He'll host NBC's Saturday Night Live Nov. 7; Clinton appeared in a skit on the show Oct. 3.) In 2008, the news division took considerable incoming fire from Republicans objecting to the inclusion of Keith Olbermann (then MSNBC's biggest star) in the network's coverage of the political conventions. 

But with a target audience consisting of titans of corporate America (and day traders), CNBC is far from a liberal-leaning network. NBC News' debate partners for the February debate are National Review magazine as well as Spanish-language network Telemundo, which is part of the NBCUni networks. Republicans have had trouble attracting large blocks of Hispanic voters, an increasingly important constituency in national elections.

Read the full letter below:

Dear Mr. Lack,

I write to inform you that pending further discussion between the Republican National Committee (RNC) and our presidential campaigns, we are suspending the partnership with NBC News for the Republican primary debate at the University of Houston on February 26, 2016. The RNC’s sole role in the primary debate process is to ensure that our candidates are given a full and fair opportunity to lay out their vision for America’s future. We simply cannot continue with NBC without full consultation with our campaigns.

The CNBC network is one of your media properties, and its handling of the debate was conducted in bad faith. We understand that NBC does not exercise full editorial control over CNBC’s journalistic approach. However, the network is an arm of your organization, and we need to ensure there is not a repeat performance.

CNBC billed the debate as one that would focus on "the key issues that matter to all voters—job growth, taxes, technology, retirement and the health of our national economy." That was not the case. Before the debate, the candidates were promised an opening question on economic or financial matters. That was not the case. Candidates were promised that speaking time would be carefully monitored to ensure fairness. That was not the case.  Questions were inaccurate or downright offensive. The first question directed to one of our candidates asked if he was running a comic book version of a presidential campaign, hardly in the spirit of how the debate was billed.

While debates are meant to include tough questions and contrast candidates’ visions and policies for the future of America, CNBC’s moderators engaged in a series of "gotcha" questions, petty and mean-spirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates. What took place Wednesday night was not an attempt to give the American people a greater understanding of our candidates’ policies and ideas.

I have tremendous respect for the First Amendment and freedom of the press. However, I also expect the media to host a substantive debate on consequential issues important to Americans. CNBC did not.

While we are suspending our partnership with NBC News and its properties, we still fully intend to have a debate on that day, and will ensure that National Review remains part of it.

I will be working with our candidates to discuss how to move forward and will be in touch.


Reince Priebus
Chairman, Republican National Committee