CNN Blasted for 3-Hour ‘Debate From Hell’

Politico, Slate, Los Angeles Times among media outlets to criticize CNN for length and quality of GOP faceoff

Last Updated: September 17, 2015 @ 8:59 AM

CNN is hoping for big numbers from Wednesday’s second GOP presidential debate, but so far, reaction from the media hasn’t been stellar.

Politico‘s Hadas Gold went with the bold headline “CNN’s three-hour debate from hell.” She pointed out how the candidates looked ready for bed by the contest’s last hour.

“A sweating Marco Rubio ran his hands through his hair, Chris Christie’s face turned red, a sagging Donald Trump grasped his lectern for support and, at times, seemed to crumple into his suit.”

The Los Angeles Times‘ Mary McNamara wrote about the big-event backdrop orchestrated by CNN.

“The news network went ‘American Gladiator: Celebrity Edition,’ doing everything within its power to make the event a must-watch, live-tweetable, ‘anything could happen’ political smackdown,” she wrote. McNamara also offered a bit of a backhanded compliment.

“Intense is one way to describe it. So is overlong, shamelessly orchestrated and surprisingly effective. At three-plus hours (four-plus if you count the first low-poll-percentage debate), it may be the first Republican debate to qualify as a binge-watch.”

Slate‘s Justin Peters knocked moderator Jake Tapper and the event as the “worst debate I can remember.”

“Most of the time, Tapper is a capable journalist and host, one who isn’t afraid to challenge his guests if they’re being evasive. But very little of that attitude was on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, and it desperately needed to be,” Peters wrote.

“The blame for this doesn’t wholly redound to Tapper and his sort-of co-moderators, radio host Hugh Hewitt and CNN’s Dana Bash, who probably should have brought books to read … and the odd ground rules by which the debate was conducted did Tapper no favors, either. ‘I’ll give you time to respond if you’re singled out for criticism,’ Tapper promised the candidates at the outset. He fulfilled that promise.”

The debate was indeed too long for the shorter-attention-span TV news viewer of 2015, but CNN also deserves some praise.

With 11 candidates on stage — and few of them caring much when Tapper tried to move on to the next subject — the CNN anchor was able to fit in a wide variety of topics. Gun control, climate change, religious freedom and marijuana legalization made appearances at CNN’s debate where they were absent from its Fox News predecessor.

Tapper was also flexible, allowing candidates to jump in out of turn when they were particularly peeved about something another candidate said. Viewers at home might have disliked this feature, but with 11 mouths to feed, it’s only fair to let the lower-polling candidates go back for seconds.

One consensus takeaway: Eleven debaters on stage are too many, both for the candidates, viewers and journalists. It would behoove CNN and other networks to devise an outside-the-box configuration for subsequent debates than can narrow the number down to six or seven at a time.