Recently there was a disturbance in the journalism force when the Republicans decided they’d learned their lesson after the disastrous CNBC debate. As a result they pulled out of a scheduled debate on NBC (a corporate sister to CNBC and MSNBC) and took their business to CNN. And that was too much for the cognoscenti. Washington Post‘s Erik Wemple, a close follower of all things Cable Game, did not mince words:
RNC to broadcast outlets: No ‘gotcha’ questions, or else: When the Republican National Committee levels a threat, take note…High numbers explain the creepiness behind the arrangement. If you anger the RNC, that is, you stand to lose money, bonuses, congratulatory memos from the boss. The RNC’s actions against NBC will have a leveling effect. Get ready for a lot of network cautiousness in the coming debates, because sponsors know what will happen if they don’t play by the rules, ill-defined as they are.
Wemple’s concern that politicians should not “forum shop” to avoid unfriendly or challenging questions is a fair one. Inside Cable News took it a step further, coming down on CNN for agreeing to pick up the debate that NBC lost:
CNN should have refused the debate because it sets a bad precedent where political parties can shop their debates just to punish networks regardless of the validity of the “crime”…All the networks should have stood firm in supporting NBC given the circumstances (NBC being punished for something it had no part of).
“Spud” is making the point that NBC shouldn’t be blamed for CNBC’s lousy debate, but even if the lousy debate had been NBC’s own production, this would still be forum shopping. To be sure, as soon as the GOP voiced its criticisms over the CNBC questions (rightly so according to critics) there was President Obama to say Republicans were afraid of tough questions:
They can’t handle a bunch of CNBC moderators … If you can’t handle those guys, then I don’t think the Chinese and Russians are going to be too worried about you.
You would think the irony of the President’s critique would have been noted by somebody in the mainstream media. This is Barack Obama, the man who avoids Fox News like the plague. It took a Big Fox airing of the Super Bowl two years ago to get Mr. Obama into the no-spin zone, and that’s pretty much been it. How often do you see Hillary Clinton on Fox News? This past Sunday Mrs. Clinton did the rounds of all the Sunday news shows, except Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. At least a half-dozen serious FNC program hosts have repeatedly requested an interview with the likely Democratic candidate for President, and have been turned down. The Cable Gamer doesn’t recall Mr. Wemple’s post decrying this blatant forum shopping, but maybe we overlooked it.
Mind you, this sort of thing is encouraged by many blogs and anti-Fox sites. So Jason Easley congratulates Hillary for being afraid to go on Fox: “The Democratic Party has finally wised up.” As a side benefit this helps feed the narrative that Fox News avoids interviewing Democrats, even when it’s a lie.
And lies bring this discussion full circle, for it was a campaign of falsehoods and fabrications that succeeded in getting the Democrats to permanently boycott Fox News for any of their Presidential debates. In 2007 a pair of blogs cited a Fox News Democratic debate from 2003 and lied about Juan Williams’s questions, the language used, the post-game analysis, and—wouldn’t you know it?—how many Democrats were interviewed. To no one’s surprise, the Democrats cancelled their 2007 debate on Fox News, and the precedent was set.
Eight years later Fox News is still proposing Democratic debates, but the Dems won’t give FNC the time of day. Forum shopping has become their default. The champions of capital-J Journalism get worked up when the GOP cancels a debate with the parent company of Lean Forward. But when Fox News is frozen out, election cycle after election cycle, people like Mr. Erik Wemple can’t seem to summon up the same level of outrage. But why should they? After all, it’s Fox. Bret Baier? Megyn Kelly? Chris Wallace? Who really expects the Democrats to talk to those people?