Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio put media bias on the front burner at CNBC’s Republican presidential debate, but conservatives and liberals differed sharply on whether what was in the pot smelled appetizing. Several lefty bloggers turned up their noses at the idea that in last night’s event and in general, the media favor Democrats.
Matthew Yglesias of Vox asserted that the media-bashing came off as pathetic: “Where inchoate grassroots conservative rage once found its voice in the form of Trump, in the third debate it simply seemed inchoate — reduced to argument that America's main business news network is part of a vast liberal conspiracy and that asking for mathematically plausible tax policies is a form of bias.”
Vox editor-in-chief Ezra Klein located the fault not in John Harwood or other CNBC stars, but in GOPers themselves: “The questions…though relentlessly tough, were easily the most substantive of the debates so far. And the problem for Republicans is that substantive questions about their policy proposals end up sounding like hostile attacks — but that's because the policy proposals are ridiculous, not because the questions are actually unfair.”
Jonathan Chait of New York magazine (“What the candidates agreed upon above all else is that any intrusions into their alternate reality represent a gross offense by the liberal media”) also suggested that the central conflict was between wacky, insular conservatives and pretty much everyone else. William Saletan of Slate made it explicit (bolding added):
[T]he debate exposed a division within the country. But the division isn’t between the press and the public. It’s between people who listen to evidence—reporters, policy analysts, and many Democrats and Republicans—and an impervious, defiant wing of the GOP.
…Harwood, [Becky] Quick, and the other CNBC panelists were no harsher to the Republicans on Wednesday than CNN’s Anderson Cooper was to Clinton and other Democrats in their debate two weeks ago. What was different this time was the reaction. Presented with facts and figures that didn’t fit their story, the leading Republican candidates accused the moderators of malice and deceit.
Yes, reporters sometimes screw up. But they have a troublesome habit of checking things. That’s what makes their statements, on the whole, more reliable than yours. It’s not true, as Stephen Colbert once joked, that reality has a liberal bias. But it is true that reality has a bias toward journalists. That’s because journalists spend a lot of time with reality. They get to know it.
Esquire’s Charles Pierce lauded a specific moderator: “Harwood -- for whom I am going to buy a beer the next time I see the guy -- pinned Rubio on the fact that the Tax Foundation scored Rubio's tax plan and found that it would send the deficit careering off into the Van Alen [sic] Belt, as well as shoving even more of the country's wealth upward.”
But The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson argued that the panelists weren’t harsh enough: “The moderators did fail. But not for the reasons that the Republican candidates gave…It is because the moderators utterly failed to control a group of candidates whose level of detachment from facts and vitriol seemed to surprise them when it shouldn’t have.”
Finally, Salon’s Amanda Marcotte claimed to see the true agenda behind GOP complaints about the media: “What Republicans are really objecting to is that CNBC didn’t give the candidates a tongue bath. The ‘media bias’ gambit is, as it has always been, an attempt by conservatives to shut substantive discourse down, not to encourage it.”