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CNBC, in a rare chance to showcase itself to a wider non-financial audience, failed to think through what image of itself it wanted to present during Wednesday’s republican presidential deb. If you look at its day-in-day-out programing, there is no doubt that CNBC is a right-wing-leaning network: pro-corporate, pro-financial-sector, anti-tax, anti-regulation. Sampling viewers got no idea about its underlying programing ideology from watching last night.
John Harwood is an outlier in CNBC’s core mission, which is to explain the day-to-day role of the financial markets in particular, and the financial system as a whole, in the national and global economy. Harwood, as CNBC’s political analyst, has a marginal role on the network, yet was assigned a central role for the debate. This took the debate topics away from CNBC’s sweet spot. Removing Harwood would have focused the issues on financial and economic matters and showcased CNBC’s core expertise.
Of course, the candidates were going to attack the debate panel for liberal media bias. That is the Republicans’ stock in trade, whether it is appropriate or not. Any form of questioning that they dislike — whether it is uncomfortable or inappropriate or confrontational or truly ideologically slanted — will come under fire using the “liberal bias” slogan. It matters not that CNBC, as a network, has shown no evidence of a liberal mentality.
There is a serious issue that remains unresolved, namely this: During the primary season, is it appropriate that Republican candidates should be asked questions from a conservative point of view? And Democrats from a liberal mindset? In other words, should mainstream questioning be reserved for the general election, with the primaries confined to teasing out differences between the various ideological strands of each party’s coalition?
In conclusion, since the candidates were so keen to indulge in media criticism, perhaps they should have been asked that question directly. What sorts of questions are appropriate to ask in this format? Are questions without a conservative frame of reference illegitimate? If they are, are you willing to forswear appearances on non-conservative news outlets — the networks’ Sunday morning shows, for example — for the duration of the primary contest and wait until the general election?
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