Please Let Us Play Softball

Here’s your entertainment in the theater of irony. CNBC, the network responsible for the birth of the Tea Party Movement, is called on the carpet for asking what amounted to “silly” and frustration-producing questions of the “serious” Republican field of 15 candidates at the third Republican debate in Colorado.

After last Wednesday night’s CNBC debate, Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chair put his foot down. He cancelled NBC’s Republican debate for February — right at the beginning of the primaries — due to the “bad faith approach” of the CNBC debate format. In his letter to Andrew Lack, Chairman of NBC News, Priebus charged:

CNBC billed the debate as one that would focus on “the key issues that matter to all voters — job growth, taxes, technology, retirement and the health of our national economy.” That was not the case. Before the debate, the candidates were promised an opening question on economic or financial matters. That was not the case. Candidates were promised that speaking time would be carefully monitored to ensure fairness. That was not the case. Questions were inaccurate or downright offensive. The first question directed to one of our candidates asked if he was running a comic book version of a presidential campaign, hardly in the spirit of how the debate was billed.

When CNBC’s panel asked the candidates to expound on the Trump candidacy as a “comic book version of a presidential campaign” — which, by the way, was absolutely on the freaking money — the RNC’s criticism of this and similar questions asked at last week’s debate had to be taken seriously.

The Republican National Committee was so upset by CNBC’s handling of the Colorado debate that it cancelled its deal with CNBC’s parent company, NBC, to broadcast the RNC’s debate of February 2016 — at a time when the Presidential primaries begin in earnest. That rung NBC’s bell. Loudly. They have a bottom line to protect. They need to make money by broadcasting political debates and running political ads.

By Sunday night — after meetings, tweets, threats, demands and push-back between representatives of the networks and the Republican campaigns — Ben Ginsberg, attorney for the Republicans, drafted this letter template to go to the TV networks. It incorporates the expectations, understanding of limitations, appeals for “fairness” and serious coverage of the debates:

Dear _____:

This letter is on behalf of the 15 Republican Presidential campaigns. We are aware that you are sponsoring a debate on _____ at ______. Below and attached are questions about your debate to which the campaigns would appreciate answers at your earliest convenience, and in any event no later than a month from today.

The answers you provide to these questions are part of a process that each campaign will use to determine whether its candidate will participate in your debate. All the candidates recognize that robust debates are an important part of the primary elections. It is also important that all debates be appropriate platforms for discussing substantive issues and the candidates’ visions for the future.

To achieve this going forward, the campaigns ask that you:

— Answer the questions below within 30 days of receipt by communicating directly with the campaigns. We’ll provide an email list for that distribution.

— No later than a month before your debate (earlier if possible), schedule a conference with all the campaigns participating jointly so that the campaigns may ask questions about the format for your debate, the moderators and your answers to the questions below. The campaigns may request an additional call(s) to discuss specific issues.

— The campaigns will use the manner in which your debate(s) are run (and changes you say you will make from your past debates), the quality and fairness of your moderators’ questions, their enforcement of the rules and their ability to achieve parity in distribution and quality of questions and time among the candidates to evaluate whether the candidates wish to participate in your future debates.

— In addition, based on their evaluation of previous debates, the campaigns wish to have in all future debates a minimum 30-second opening statement and a minimum 30-second closing statement for each participant; candidate pre-approval of any graphics and bios you plan to include in your broadcast about each candidate, and that there be no “lightning rounds” because of their frivolousness or “gotcha” nature, or in some cases both.

The campaigns appreciate your participation to achieve what they feel is a great need for more accountability and transparency in their primary debate process. In addition to addressing the above points, please answer the following:

Where and when will the debate be held? What are criteria for inclusion? If you choose to base this on polls, please detail which polls and why each poll’s methodology and sample size is acceptable to you. Who is the moderator? Will there be any additional questioners? Are they seated?

What is the estimated audience for the debate? Will it be disseminated on-line? By radio? Will it be disseminated by other means and do you have any additional partners? What format do you envision – podiums, table, other? Will there be questions from the audience or social media? How many? How will they be presented to the candidates? Will you acknowledge that you, as the sponsor, take responsibility for all questions asked, even if not asked by your personnel?

What is your proposed length of the debate? Will there be opening and closing statements? How long will they be? Will you commit to provide equal time/an equal number of questions of equal quality (substance as opposed to “gotcha” or frivolous) to each candidate? How long are the answers and rebuttals? If a candidate is mentioned, will he/she automatically be called on so they can rebut? Will there be a gong/buzzer/bell when time is up? How will the moderator enforce the time limits?

Will you commit that you will not: Ask the candidates to raise their hands to answer a question; ask yes/no questions without time to provide a substantive answer; Have a “lightning round”; Allow candidate-to-candidate questioning; Allow props or pledges by the candidates; Have reaction shots of members of the audience or moderators during debates; Show an empty podium after a break (describe how far away the bathrooms are); Use behind shots of the candidates showing their notes; Leave microphones on during breaks; Allow members of the audience to wear political messages (shirts, buttons, signs, etc.). Who enforces?

What is the size of the audience? Who is receiving tickets in addition to the candidates? Who’s in charge of distributing those tickets and filling the seats? What instructions will you provide to the audience about cheering during the debate? What are the plans for the lead-in to the debate (Pre-shot video? Announcer to moderator? Director to Moderator?) and how long is it? Are you running promo ads before the debate about your moderator(s)? What type of microphones (lavs or podium)? Can you pledge that the temperature in the hall be kept below 67 degrees?

If there is any additional information you would like to provide the candidates and the campaigns, please do so. Thank you for your cooperation. Should you have any questions, the campaigns will be pleased to answer them.


On the surface, the concerns of the RNC appear reasonable; but the kind of politics the candidates discuss and the virulence their platforms and talking points generate — either at debate or on the stump — go beyond reasonableness. Some of the Republican candidates are completely nuts.

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The level of information prep and production control requested in the letter indicates to me they don’t want the candidates to be shown as they are. They don’t want the hard questions thrown at them. Poor things.

It’s funny. We’re dealing with the party of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, fathers of the killer “gotcha” moments complicit with the media for use in character assassination. And they are masters in Goebbels’ practice of repeating lies until they become truth. And yet now they’re whining for fairness from a news media grown used to info-sop and surrogate attack interviews, where people shout over each other instead of thoughtfully answering questions.

They’re chastising CNBC — the very network responsible for the birth of the Tea Party. I am sure the Republicans are hoping no one notices that it’s their own rules of engagement they want changed — for them. But they made their bed a while back. Time to lie in it.

This is what election politics has become: entertaining disinformation. And looking at this colorful Republican cast of 15 characters saying anything they can to make headway in such a crowded field provides some very interesting entertainment indeed. Karma can sometimes be a cruel mistress, particularly if you’ve been on the dishing end of it, and even more when you’re feigning victim-hood from media unfairness and trying to get away with it. 

They’re asking the media to play softball for them. When you trade down from the hardball of the big leagues to softball, you need to remember that a softball is bigger and far more visibly obvious to those even casually watching. People get when they’re being played down to.

In their defense, CNBC vice president of communications Brian Steel said, “People who want to be president of the United States should be able to answer tough questions.”

Let’s see if the Republicans don’t trip over the bar they’re asking networks to lower.

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About Fe Bongolan

Planet Waves writer Fe Bongolan lives in Oakland, California. Her column, "Fe-911," has been featured on Planet Waves since 2008. As an actor and dramaturge, Fe is a core member of Cultural Odyssey's "The Medea Project -- Theater for Incarcerated Women," producing work that empowers the voices of all women in trouble, from ex-offenders, women with HIV-AIDS, to young girls and women at risk. A Planet Waves fan from almost the beginning of Eric's astrology career, Fe is a public sector employee who describes herself as a "mystical public servant." When it comes to art, culture and politics, she loves reading between the lines.

12 thoughts on “Please Let Us Play Softball

  1. Fe Bongolan Post author


    President Obama skewers GOP Candidates: Can’t handle a bunch of CNBC Moderators
    by Egberto Willies

    President Obama appeared at a fundraiser in New York on Monday. He decided to have some fun with the Republican candidates who are having a temper tantrum because they did not get the questions they wanted from the CNBC moderators. In effect they wanted softballs. The President called them out in a manner that made them seem rather puny.

    “Have you noticed that everyone of these candidates say,” President Obama said. “‘Obama is weak. Putin is kicking sand in his face. When I talk to Putin he is going to straighten out. Just looking at him. He is going to be.’ And then, it turns out they can’t handle a bunch of CNBC moderators.”

    It is fun watching a President that no longer cares what Republicans or anyone else think about him anymore. He does not have any other election to run. He has accomplished most of his major goals. He simply needs to get the popcorn and a cold drink as the politicians that attempted to bring him down self-destruct.

  2. Barbara Koehler

    It seems fitting then, that Politics join all the other Neptunian venues the U.S. is famous for; now Entertaining Disinformation. We have had our movies/videos, balls of all sizes and shapes being tossed or kicked around, beauty pageants (probably where they got the idea of 15 candidates having a debate), racing all sorts of critters and machines, and of course, the many entertaining things you can do on your computer and your smart phone. The U.S. natal (Sibly) chart’s Neptune at 22+ Virgo, responsible for much of this entertainment, is being aspected by transiting serious Saturn even as we speak.

    Wipe that smirk off your face, this is serious, I MEAN SERIOUS! Once again, we are talking about a Quintile (72 degrees between planets) which can overcome physical limitations by using our spiritual will to transcend those limitations. Saturn is still within orb of his sesquiquadrate with Uranus in Aries too, and of course within orb of his square to transiting Neptune. Comedians (and politicians and snake oil salesmen) attribute their talent to Timing, and Timing is Saturn’s forte’.

    Trans. Saturn has cleared his retrograde shadow and entered fresh territory, ready to take on the responsibility he is noted for. In my state we voted today for our next Governor with a prayer (Neptune) to keep the Democrats in that office. Next door in Ohio, they voted to make marijuana legal, another Neptunian venue.

    Let’s face it, the one thing that most Americans have in common is their love of escapism, and Neptune gives it to us in spades. Didn’t Nero fiddle while Rome burned? Is this not part of the play where the walls come tumblin’ down (earthquake or God)? It’s a mad, mad, world we live in Fe, and by all means lets us eat our unfit hotdogs and watch them play softball.

    1. Fe Bongolan Post author


      Jude and I are both so blessed to have your symphonic interpretations of our political cosmos!!

      I’m going to need to copyright “Entertaining Disinformation” as a new political meme out there in the technosphere. We are going places we thought we’d never be.

      Best of luck on the elections today, B. May you get the best leader you can possibly get. (Hands folded in prayer, head down.)

  3. Fe Bongolan Post author

    More delicious Republican tears. This time from News Corpse:

    MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough Has On-Air Mental Breakdown Over Liberal Media Myth

    The resident Republican blowhard on MSNBC, Joe Scarborough, has staked out his post as the network’s voice of rightist disinformation. He commands his three hour block of airtime like a junta leader, ordering the topics of discussion and interrupting his guests incessantly.

    This morning Scarborough appeared to have a severe cognitive collapse during a segment about the Republican Party’s debate-o-phobia (video below). Like most of his ideological allies, he is suffering from the delusion that the American media, owned by a handful of megalithic, multinational corporations, is dominated by liberals. Scarborough set off on a rant about the absence of conservatives on nightly news programs, Sunday shows, and in the executive suites. He badgered his guests to come up with examples of Republicans in those roles, and insisted that they could not do it.

    Scarborough: “Outside of Brit Hume, who has been a conservative in the mainstream media in the past 30 years who you’ve worked for? Outside of Brit Hume, who has held a powerful position at ABC, NBC or CBS News on the air? […] Name the single Republican that has hosted a Sunday show, that has been an anchor of a news network for the big three networks over the past 50 years. You cannot do it.”

    Setting aside the fact that Scarborough conveniently leaves out Fox News, the most watched, and therefore mainstream by default, cable news network, he repeatedly spits out this challenge to his colleagues, who are not particularly well informed on the subject. For instance, Mark Halperin, the senior political analyst for MSNBC, responded sheepishly saying “Joe, I agree with you 100%.” No one else on the panel was able to take up Scarborough’s challenge either.

    The whole article is very funny. The last line sums up the Republican disconnect from reality:

    “If anything, the fact that no one at the table could cite any of the (conservative) people mentioned above is proof that the media is conservative, and blind to their bias.”

  4. Amy Elliott

    OMG I am laughing so hard. These douchebags take themselves so seriously that I can’t understand why anyone else does. This isn’t a political campaign, it’s a kindergarten.

  5. Barbara Koehler

    No kidding!! Missed seeing this. Yeah, he’s the token Pub on MSNBC that everybody (on the show each morning) kowtow’s to. Sometimes I grin and bear it b/c of a good (interesting) guest, but usually for just a few minutes, otherwise my breakfast won’t stay down. Thanks for sharing Fe.

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