Debate Smackdown!

presidentIn a scathing rebuke of the main stream media,during last night’s Republican Presidential Debate, Senator Ted Cruz sparked a firestorm of controversy in today’s press. Cruz chastised CNBC’s moderator, Carl Quintanilla saying, “The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media.” [Audience Applause] He went on to say, “This is not a cage match.”

So what was Quintanilla’s alleged sin? Did his question really go over the top or was Cruz simply being too sensitive?

In the old television series Dragnet, Sgt. Joe Friday was famous for keeping witnesses on track by saying, “Just the facts…,” when they started injecting their own viewpoint or imagination. It was his way of reminding them that he was the investigator and it was his job to make a determination after all the facts were in.

If Sgt. Friday had been there last night, he probably would have found ample opportunity to use his famous line. In this particular instance, the moderator asked this question,

“Congressional Republicans, Democrats and the White House are about to strike a compromise that would raise the debt limit, prevent a government shutdown and calm financial markets that fear another Washington-created crisis is on the way. Does your opposition to it show that you’re not the kind of problem solver American voters want?”

If this had been a courtroom, I believe there are several objections that might have been made including editorializing and badgering the witness. Note the framing of the question by Quintanilla:

He begins by making it appear that everyone disagrees with Cruz by piling on the Republicans, Democrats and the White House.
He intimated that Cruz’s desire would result in a government shutdown and bad results from the financial markets.
He pitted Cruz as being against the desires of the American people.

Considering the moderator’s oft expressed concern for time, it would seem that Quintanilla could have simply asked Cruz, “Why do you oppose the current deal to raise the debt ceiling” After all, no-one was watching because they wanted to hear what the moderator’s had to say, we wanted to hear the responses of the candidates. This would have been a much shorter question that was not pregnant with sarcasm and personal opinion.

The discussion has been all over the place today. Some believe that the Senator’s response is indicative of the tension in the Republican party. Some are thrilled that someone finally stood up to the media. Rush Limbaugh believes that it was a conspiracy by the moderators to plant thoughts in the minds of viewers. Perhaps there is a little truth in many opinions. Certainly these moderators are well trained and aware of the many tools in their linguistic toolkit. For that reason I cannot accept that the approach was accidental. Instead it speaks clearly on the subject of narrative.

The narrative is how we tell the story. For example, imagine if someone would have asked the same question this way:

“Congressional Republicans, Democrats and the White House are about to strike a compromise that would raise the debt limit, burden our children and grandchildren with even more untenable debt and further enslave us to China and other nations whom we borrow from. Does your opposition to it show that you’re just the kind of problem solver American voters want?”

We have long passed the days when the Joe Friday mindset ruled the news or lecture halls of America. We now live in an age where the narrative is more important than facts. In deed, the facts are often molded and mutilated to get them to fit the narrative.

Jesus told His followers that when they knew the truth, the truth would set them free. Unfortunately many folks today follow Pilot’s philosophy instead, “What is truth?” For Pilot that meant ignoring the facts so that he could please the crowd by killing Jesus.  We need to strive to seek the truth instead of looking for things that justify what we already believe. Don’t be like the man who said, “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts.”


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