The battle between the Republicans and the media reached ridiculous new heights on Friday when the Republican National Committee announced that it is suspending its partnership with NBC News for a presidential debate in February. RNC chief Reince Priebus told NBC that he was so incensed by the way the most recent debate on CNBC went that he is pulling out, writing, "We simply cannot continue with NBC without full consultation with our campaigns."
Let's put to one side the irony of CNBC—which is home to some of the most rabid free-marketeers around, and which, lest we forget, is where the Tea Party started—suddenly being portrayed as the ultimate symbol of radical left-wing bias. Priebus's letter represents a sharp escalation in hostilities towards the media in general.
The RNC's move must be read in the context of a simmering revolt from the individual presidential campaigns, which had begun banding together to force just this kind of action from the GOP hierarchy. Priebus must have been terrified that he would lose control over the debate process, so he moved to defuse the anger coming from below.
It would have been great if NBC News had responded with similar contempt. The CNBC debate may have been abysmal, but it's not for the Republican Party to dictate terms to a news network, or to look over its shoulder as it crafts the questions for a debate. NBC should have told Priebus to get lost.
Sadly, that didn't happen. NBC almost immediately came out with a meek statement, saying,
"This is a disappointing development. However, along with our debate broadcast partners at Telemundo we will work in good faith to resolve this matter with the Republican Party."
Translation: we really, really, really don't want to lose out on this debate.
NBC has some very sound reasons for wanting to stay on the GOP's good side, and few of them are journalistic ones. The network has seen how much of a ratings bonanza the debates have been. They're a gold mine. NBC is surely salivating over the ad rates it can charge and the viewers it can bring in, but it can't do that if it has no debate to air, so it would rather look weak and keep the show on the road than take a stand and see all of that vanish.
NBC likely also has some practical concerns about wading into a full-on war with a major political party. What if Republican candidates stop going on "Meet the Press"? Since these kinds of shows see their only guest options as Democratic politicians, Republican politicians and some combination of David Brooks, Andrea Mitchell and maybe a general, this would blow a huge hole in the lineup. NBC's potential capitulation means that Donald Trump will keep deigning to call Chuck Todd from one of his jets every Sunday.
The likely outcome to all of this is that the two sides will come to some new agreement—possibly with increased participation from some conservative hosts—and that, once again, Republicans will claim another victory in their endless war against the media. Happy days all around.