Republicans suspend contract with NBC News, accusing it of asking debate questions in bad faith

Republican presidential candidates debate held by CNBC in Boulder, Colorado, Oct 28, 2015.
Republican presidential candidates debate held by CNBC in Boulder, Colorado, Oct 28, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Republican National Committee (RNC) told NBC on Friday (Oct 30) it was suspending their broadcast partnership after the United States network's cable news subsidiary was accused of asking questions in "bad faith" during the party's last presidential debate.

"Pending further discussion between the RNC and our presidential campaigns, we are suspending the partnership with NBC News for the Republican primary debate at the University of Houston on February 26, 2016," the committee's chairman Reince Priebus wrote to NBC News chairman Andrew Lack.

"The CNBC network is one of your media properties, and its handling of the debate was conducted in bad faith," Mr Priebus added, stressing that "we need to ensure there is not a repeat performance."

CNBC moderators have faced a major backlash over their handling of the third Republican debate of the primary campaign on Wednesday in Colorado.

Candidates and observers admonished them for being too aggressive, straying off the announced topic of economics and finance, and pitting candidates against one another.

While debates are supposed to include tough questioning and contrast candidates and their visions, "CNBC's moderators engaged in a series of 'gotcha' questions, petty and mean-spirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates", Mr Priebus said.

"While we are suspending our partnership with NBC News and its properties, we still fully intend to have a debate on that day, and will ensure that National Review remains part of it."

The conservative National Review magazine is one of the host partners for the Feb 26 debate, along with NBC and its Spanish language network Telemundo.

NBC News issued a quick response, describing the RNC's move as "a disappointing development".

"However, we will work in good faith to resolve this matter with the Republican Party."

NBC could stand to lose major advertising revenue with the suspension of its debate broadcast rights.

The first Republican debate on Fox News, where moderators were also seen as aggressive, drew a record 24 million viewers. Wednesday's debate drew 14 million.

Candidates, faced with CNBC's questioning, lashed out on stage.

When moderator John Harwood interrupted New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as he attempted to answer a question, Mr Christie shot back: "Even in New Jersey, what you're doing is called rude."

"This is not a cage match," added Senator Ted Cruz.

"And you look at the questions - 'Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain?' 'Ben Carson, can you do math?'... 'Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?' How about talking about the substantive issues people care about," he said to a loud roar from the crowd.

Sen Cruz used the Republican outrage over the debate moderators to appeal to donors.

"I am declaring war on the liberal media," he began a fundraising e-mail on Friday.