Published On: Sun, Nov 13th, 2011

CBS the Big Loser in Republican SC Debate

One thing was made very clear in Saturday night’s stunted Republican debate in South Carolina: CBS is not ready for prime time. In a debate which was handled quite well by all the participating candidates, the story of the night was that a once great news organization has fallen so low.

The 90 minute debate was only scheduled to be broadcast on the CBS network for the first 60 minutes since the suits at CBS headquarters decided that it was necessary to cut it off and air a rerun of NCIS. Now NCIS is a great show, but most people would agree that a presidential debate on the duties of the Commander-in-Chief and foreign policy might be a little more important than a rerun of that CBS hit show. The network was gracious enough to carry the final 30 minutes of the debate on-line, but so many people switched over that they couldn’t handle the traffic and the live streaming became choppy and impossible to follow.

If only the candidates knew as much as the moderator

The debate was moderated by Scott Pelley of CBS and Major Garrett of National Journal. Major Garrett was fine, but the unctuous Scott Pelley managed to be so obnoxious all evening that he made Maria Bartiromo’s petulant performance as a moderator seem masterful by comparison. Within just the first few minutes of the debate Pelley made a fool of himself by incorrectly calling time on Mitt Romney. Mitt pointed out that he was entitled to 60 seconds, not 30, and Pelley had to back down.

Later on in the debate, Scott Pelley was taken to school by Newt Gingrich on the “rule of law” in this exchange, as Pelley attempted to insert his own political philosophy into the debate. Newt pointed out that people engaged in acts of war against the United States, even American citizens, were covered by the laws of war, not the US criminal code. Pelley’s smirk in the midst of this exchange is priceless. It reinforces every belief that conservatives have about the left wing bias of the mainstream media.

Than there was the matter of CBS picking winners and losers. They seem to have made the decision to limit the number of questions that a candidate received based on their standing in the polls. This fact was revealed when CBS New’s political director John Dickerson inadvertently sent a copy of an e-mail to a member of the Bachmann campaign staff which said in part, “Okay let’s keep it loose though since she’s not going to get many questions and she’s nearly off the charts in the hopes that we can get someone else.” Dickerson was informing his people that CBS had  decided that Michele Bachmann’s questions and face time would be limited, making her less than ideal as a guest on the post debate analysis segment.

All in all, CBS demonstrated an amateurish inability to host a debate. This Republican contest was the first one to be carried by a major network this year and revealed that the old networks may no longer be up to the job of covering election events, especially if they believe that it is a good idea to preempt a third of the debate to air a rerun of a popular show.

As for the actual debate, each candidate performed creditably, but there were no breakout moments that were sure to move the polls. Mitt Romney was his usual competent self, confident and unflappable. Herman Cain handled himself fairly well in an area of expertise which is not his strength, but some of his answers were vague and relied too much on his fall back position that he would ask the experts. Newt was again at the top of his game, demonstrating that he is just as comfortable with foreign policy questions as he is with those on domestic issues.

For the first time, Rick Perry had a really good debate. His answers were sharp and decisive and he demonstrated an ability to use humor to address his terrible gaffe in the last debate. Rick Santorum knows his stuff on foreign relations, but he continues to come across as an angry man. Michele Bachmann’s answers to the few questions directed to her showed that she has been paying attention at House Intelligence Committee hearings, and Ron Paul continues to endear himself to the isolationist wing of the Republican party. Oh, and why is Jon Huntsman still around?

So, there were no standout winners of this latest Republican debate, but there was a definite loser. And that loser was the once great CBS News organization. Perhaps it is time for the network of William S Paley, Edward R Murrow and Walter Cronkite to pass the torch to the Cable News Networks which at least appear to be interested in covering politics in America.

About the Author

- Paul Bianco, retired from a career in sales, now spends his spare time as a gadfly on the many political blogs. Paul says he is just going through a phase, but that phase seems to have lasted two decades. Paul's conservative political philosophy was formed well before conservative talk radio and Fox News came along. Paul remembers the days when conservatives like William F Buckley Jr were voices in the wilderness "standing athwart history, yelling stop!" From time to time Paul contributes some of the insights he has gained from observing politics for so many years, and hopes that readers will be entertained and perhaps even enlightened.