Part 4—May look like tribal bias: It was Wednesday night, October 28. The third Republican debate had ended ten minutes earlier.
The debate had been staged by CNBC. Under an unflattering headline, Josh Marshall explained how poorly the network's team had performed:
MARSHALL (10/28/15): Why is this debate so bad?Everyone already knew it. CNBC probably shouldn't be allowed to run another debate!
As everyone is already discussing, CNBC probably shouldn't be allowed to run a debate again. Aside from the expertly prepared John Harwood, the moderators were bad and poorly—almost embarrassingly—prepared. There's also the CNBC bubble—which makes some of the questions seem odd even for a Republican debate. What about onerous personal helicopter regulation?
Except for John Harwood, the two to five other moderators had been "almost embarrassingly bad," Marshall said. And not only that! Because of the network's bubble, some of the questions they asked had seemed odd, even for a Republican debate.
For our money, Marshall vastly over-praised Harwood's performance. Beyond that, we'd add an extremely basic complaint to his remarkably harsh indictment:
The moderators almost totally failed to challenge the utterly "crazy" budget plans the candidates had produced. Instead, they'd hopscotched around in grab-bag fashion, offering a crazy-quilt collection of the types of questions Marshall rejected as odd.
Within the next hour, Marshall offered two more posts about CNBC's epic fail. But how odd:
By 11:15 that night, the GOP was making complaints about the moderators. Marshall thought these complaints were odd, but he went into more detail about how bad their performance had been:
MARSHALL (10/28/15): RNC Chair Reince Priebus, who partnered with CNBC to put on this debate, is crapping on CNBC big time for putting on a terrible debate. I thought it was a terrible debate. But I was a little unclear why Priebus thought it was so terrible from a GOP perspective...In real time, Marshall really didn't think the moderators performed well.
[A]s I reflect on the debate a bit more I think a big reason the debate was so weird was that so many of the questions were based on obscurantist and myopic CNBC nonsense—which is not only far-right and identified with great wealth but specifically owned by the bubble of Wall Street. That led to a lot of odd questions—like Jim Cramer's saying why aren't GM execs going to jail, Santelli's wild questions or that question about fantasy football. Lots of people are into fantasy football. But whether it's betting and whether it should be regulated, that's a Wall Streeter question—in the same way huge amounts of the money that gets pushed through political betting sites comes off Wall Street. It's hard for Republicans to say this. But I think this is a significant reason why the debate seemed so odd. And it made it kind of odd to hear anti-liberal bias attacks on the moderators when they were asking questions like shouldn't the Fed be forced to take us back to the gold standard.
Let's not even get into perhaps the most comically poor debate prep we've ever seen in a national debate. Are these folks even journalists? Or do they just spend all day talking about capital gains tax cuts?
He described "perhaps the most comically poor debate prep we've ever seen in a national debate." "Are these folks even journalists?" the CNBC-basher asked. That said, given the types of questions which had been asked, Marshall couldn't imagine how Priebus could be complaining about "liberal bias."
If Marshall was being sincere, he was revealing a hole in his ability to see the world as it is. To us, his analysis carries the scent of a destructive, age-old devil, tribal bias.
Was Priebus sincere in his complaints? We have no way of knowing; we'd assume he partially was. Starting with the first two questions from the expertly-prepared Harwood, the moderators had invited his attack with their ridiculous snark and the pointlessly derisive way they framed their scattershot questions.
This conduct was not journalistic, and it invited attack. No matter! Marshall, being a tribal player, couldn't seem to see what had just occurred. We think we can explain why that is:
To tribal players, derision and snark are always justified when aimed at The Others. This "tribal bias" may keep such players from seeing and understanding events which occur in their world.
At any rate, in real time, Marshall thought the moderators were awful. "Everyone is already discussing this," Marshall said as soon as the debate ended.
Everyone was already saying how bad the moderators had been! But then, the moderators came under attack from the chairman of The Others, and a predictable thing occurred. The liberal world began to claim that the moderators had done a good, "substantive" job! By this past Tuesday evening, even Marshall's tone about the CNBC debate had taken a turn.
"Whatever you can say about the CNBC debate, it was tight, with sharp exchanges and memorable moments," he wrote in Tuesday's night's review of the Fox Business Network debate. "There was very little of that tonight."
Twelve days after the CNBC debacle, Marshall was now describing a tight debate with sharp exchanges and memorable moments. Beyond that, he seemed to be describing martyrs when he discussed CNBC's moderators.
"Simply pressing the candidates to answer questions or noting when they're making demonstrably untrue claims made them liberal," Marshall now declared.
Alas! Marshall was misstating the nature of the complaints about the CNBC moderators. He was also misstating what they'd done. This sort of thing makes us liberals happy. It also makes us dumb.
Let's recall the early chronology of the CNBC debate:
Confronted with "crazy" budget plans which service the rich and threaten everyone else, the moderators had basically turned tail and run. As we noted yesterday, they started the debate with a couple of questions aimed at the ludicrous budget proposals of Candidates Trump and Carson. After seven unproductive minutes, they abandoned this topic, essentially for the rest of the night.
They moved ahead to the scattershot questions about which Marshall complained. But as they moved ahead, they continued along with their snark.
Their first two questions to Candidate Trump had been dripping in snark. These questions came from the expertly-prepared Harwood. His derisive language served as a gift to the candidate with the craziest plan of them all.
After budget-based questions for Carson and Kasich, the moderators abandoned this hugely important topic. They let the crazy plans escape, but continued along with their snark, as we'll detail tomorrow.
Just for today, can we talk?
Snark is not journalistic. Neither is derisive language in service to poorly framed, lazy questions with lack any real follow-up. This was the unhelpful approach the expert Harwood took.
Seven minutes—count em, seven!—were spent on those crazy budget plans. The next two questions, to Rubio and Bush, were non-substantive, but built around snark.
Fiorina was then asked to discuss Hewlett-Packard for about the ten millionth time. Those moderators had run out of gas. The debate had barely begun.
Marshall noticed the lousy questions which dominated the evening. He said the preparation was the worst he'd ever seen. He didn't mention the important questions which went unasked.
Marshall noticed the lousy questions; Priebus noticed the snark. And how odd! As soon as Priebus began to criticize the moderators, we liberals began to say they'd been great!
Tomorrow, we'll show you the comments we liberals made as we praised their manifest greatness. This is the way tribal players get dumb—and in the long run, dumbness doesn't help our tribe, our values or our interests.
In a point we'll explain tomorrow, this is also the way of Salem Village.
We've been reading the Stacy Schiff book. To our ear, Schiff's book seems to be all about us. It's also all about Priebus.
Tomorrow: "Substantive," Ezra said