Last night’s spectacle in Ohio, billed as the first 2016 presidential election debate, was a farce.
The top-polling Republican candidates from the current field of 17 were emasculated in the Fox News event, which was a ratings winner and an awful piece of broadcasting. The event (it can’t reasonably be called a debate) was run by three Fox News program hosts (Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace) and co-sponsored by Facebook. An earlier event with other Fox News people and other candidates was also held.
Candidates quipped, firing off lines to no particular effect. A woman named Carly Fiorina who used to run Hewlett-Packard with dubious results and once ran and lost a U.S. Senate race in California apparently dominated a lackluster field in the more congenial mini-spectacle. In the main event, drawing attention chiefly for the prospect of watching the unfiltered Donald Trump, the spectacle was pathetic.
First, the Fox News trio, led by Kelly and sniveling like mustache-twirling cartoon villains, paraded the candidates before the Cleveland, Ohio arena’s audience like they were part of a perpetrator walk for a police lineup. The men, possibly the most religious field of candidates in U.S. history, were made to stand and do nothing while the trio snickered and the audience was incessantly reminded that the house was packed with an enthusiastic crowd, an assertion which had nothing to do with a proper debate. Really, the Fox trio lorded over the candidates. I later saw a headline on Drudge which indicated that the three Fox News people had more cumulative talk time on air than the candidates.
Left-leaning press types are already praising Fox News for being tough on the candidates.
But that’s not really true. The trio was more aimless, grandstanding and badgering than they were honest, clear and tough on top Republicans. They were more like duty-bound cops barking at the detained than they were like respectable journalists conducting an inquiry for the purpose of an exchange of ideas. It was all about optics, not issues and understanding.
In fact, commercial bumps, theming and branding took up excessive time. The introduction went on and on, pandering to the audience, explicitly putting location, audience and spectacle above any exposition of candidate ideas, values and positions. Only seasoned Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday, seemed mildly befuddled, frustrated or annoyed at the affair and he was relegated to third string after fraternity-type Baier, who declined Texas Sen. Ted Cruz after a polite request for a reply, and overbearing, unprofessional Kelly, the trio’s leading voice in Tammy Faye Bakker false eyelashes. They seemed to have brought lines and quips and a zeal to score points as against being studied, prepared and informed enough to ask questions, demand answers and elicit views for the audience to gauge, judge and consider. The viewer never got even a flash of context in today’s times, let alone a sense of the magnitude of the major, catastrophic issues and dangers faced by the nation. Questions about reality TV quotes on “fat pigs” were treated with equal measure as questions about a nuclear-armed Islamic enemy. The affair was an exercise in smallness.
Nothing much was learned. Trump the poll-leading anti-capitalist was Trump, defending total government control of the medical profession without followup. Florida’s ex-governor Jeb Bush showed up with an air of entitlement as he always does even when he speaks of something he thinks he’s earned. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, son of a preacher, worked in a line or two as if sensing that this is not his best format. Doctor Ben Carson stammered and rambled about altruism and God. Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio made points and messed up facts. Tellingly, Arkansas ex-governor Mike Huckabee, the Christian socialist-populist and former Fox News host, wrongly stated that the purpose of the military is to kill, adding only as an afterthought that they ought to protect the nation, too. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul sparred over mass, indiscriminate surveillance on Americans and both failed to make a coherent case in an exchange which should have been (and, with moderators, would have been) broadened into a debate among speakers. Ohio’s Gov. John Kasich sounded respectable representing the status quo, Me-Too Republican welfare statist, justifying each violation of individual rights with God and religion. As usual, Ted Cruz was fine until he spoke of God speaking to him and outlined his religious agenda, though he at times sounded like the most thoughtful of the bunch.
But they all served a single purpose and it wasn’t to discuss, debate and disseminate ideas. They were presented as clowns in a carnival; props for Fox News promotionalism. The format and questions were generally driven by the desire to titillate and generate fragments of controversy, not to query, induce an exchange and inform the public.
The left praising the display is likely moved by the notion that, if the mainstream media can convince people that last night’s spectacle was an exhibition of journalism, if not good journalism, the left can claim impartiality, employ the same cheap, shallow tactics and continue to get away with propping up the welfare state, leading Americans into total fascism. Baier, Kelly and, looking out of place and slightly ashamed of the company he keeps, Wallace, huffed, snorted and behaved like they were in a friendly barroom brawl, as if programming about presidential politics exists strictly as a spectacle sport. Properly executed, it does not.
Nothing less than America and the lives, liberties, properties and selfish pursuits of Americans is at stake in this presidential election, which is already such as circus that the most serious, principled candidate in the race so far is a socialist from New England named Bernie Sanders, a Democrat who’s filling up arenas as fast as any charismatic advocate of statism. The best that can be said of last night’s Fox News/Facebook debate is that it was not, as advertised, a debate. Like most of what Fox News puts on, it was a show. What Americans desperately need (and, still, to some degree, deserve) is a serious approach to political journalism, not a ringmaster ridiculing clowns at an anti-conceptual circus which may lead into a horror show.