“The Republican National Committee has decided to move forward without NBC’s participation in our February debate in Houston, TX. The RNC has awarded the debate to CNN, who will broadcast it on Thursday, February 25th in Houston at a location to be decided,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said today in a statement.
Throw your mind back to late October, when Priebus, who was facing a revolt of his party’s presidential candidates over the RNC’s handling of the CNBC debate, sent a kick-the-dog letter to NBC News chief Andy Lack canceling plans for the GOP to let NBC broadcast and moderate a scheduled debate in February. This, despite the fact NBC News does not oversee CNBC, though both are properties of NBCU.
“The CNBC network is one of your media properties, and its handling of the debate was conducted in bad faith,” Priebus wrote back then. “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.”
As he had immediately after the CNBC debate, Priebus, in that stinging late-October statement, pounded the cable news net for “inaccurate or downright offensive” questions during the debate that were “petty and mean-spirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates.” The debate clocked a hefty 14M viewers – a huge number for CNBC – but got panned, not only by the RNC and candidates on stage, but also by other media outlets and late-night comics, for the moderators’ lack of preparedness and “gotcha questions,” among other charges.
It was not even the first time the RNC has threatened to pull the plug on an NBC GOP debate in this election cycle. The committee also played this card way back in 2013 when the network was developing a Hillary Clinton miniseries. In September of that year, the RNC took credit for NBC deep-sixing what the committee called the network’s “Hillary Clinton infomercial.” It was one of two Clinton projects that had the RNC’s undies in a bunch and over which the committee was threatening to cancel debates. Ironically, the other Clinton project was a documentary in the works at CNN – which also pulled the plug on its Clinton project, after the director pulled out, CNN said at the time.
This most recent time the RNC said it was yanking the debate from NBC, its news division had responded with a statement: “This is a disappointing development. However, along with our debate broadcast partners at Telemundo we will work in good faith to resolve this matter with the Republican Party.”
That appears not to have gone well. Today’s news came after a party debate committee vote. CNN has an embarrassment of GOP debates, having already hosted two and with one more on the way, in March.