Republican debate: CNBC moderators blasted by party leaders, candidates
NBC spokesperson rejects complaints with terse response
They railed against Democrats. They attacked each other. But the Republican presidential contenders seemed even angrier at the media Wednesday night.
The candidates repeatedly expressed frustration with the mainstream media in general and the CNBC moderators asking the questions during the third GOP debate.
The event was moderated by CNBC's Becky Quick, John Harwood and Carl Quintanilla. The audience booed loudly at them several times – sometimes at the encouragement of the candidates.
"The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don't trust the media," Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said early on.
- 3rd Republican debate: Candidates spar on jobs, taxes and economy
- ANALYSIS: Trump gets thumbs-up from neo-Nazis, white nationalists
- Trump emphasizes plans to build 'real' wall at Mexico border
"This is not a cage match," he added. "How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?"
Others complained the moderators' questions were hostile and based on inaccurate premises.
"That's not true," retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson objected to one moderator's depiction of his tax plans. "When we put all the facts down, you'll be able to see that it's not true, it works out very well."
People who want to be president of the United States should be able to answer tough questions.- Brian Steel, NBC spokesman
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took issue with one moderator's interruption. "Do you want me to answer or do you want to answer?" he said. "Because, I've got to tell you the truth, even in New Jersey what you're doing is called rude."
In his closing statement Donald Trump chastised the network for trying to extend the debate past the two-hour mark, which he and Carson had teamed up to stop.
"In about two minutes I renegotiated it down to two hours so we could get the hell out of here," he bragged.
"I'm disappointed at the moderators and I'm pretty disappointed at CNBC," he said.
Priebus added that he felt the moderators had done "a disservice to their network, our candidates, and voters."
"One of the great things about our party is that we are able to have a dynamic exchange about which solutions will secure a prosperous future, and I will fight to ensure future debates allow for a more robust exchange," he added. "CNBC should be ashamed of how this debate was handled."
Trump, who had predicted the debate would be "unfair" hours before it started, told CNBC after he walked offstage that he felt the Republicans had been treated far differently than the Democrats during their first faceoff earlier this month.
In spite of the moderators, I'm proud of our team for standing up against the improper and unprofessional display put on by CNBC.—@Reince
"If you looked at Hillary's deal a couple of weeks ago, the questions were much softer, much easier, much nicer. It was like a giant lovefest," he said. "That did not take place over here. This was pretty tough."
Bush campaign manager Danny Diaz confirmed that he had expressed displeasure to a CNBC producer about the debate.
NBC spokesman Brian Steel responded with a one-sentence statement: "People who want to be president of the United States should be able to answer tough questions."
"There were a lot of conservatives urging them to go hard after the media and that's what they did," Harwood said in response to the criticism. He argued that moderators were needed to ask the candidates hard questions about economic policy.
CNBC, part of the NBCUniversal group, reached its biggest audience ever with the debate.
The Nielsen company said 14 million viewers watched the debate Wednesday night, down from the 24 million who saw the first contest on Fox News Channel in February and 23 million viewers for CNN's second contest. However, according to Nielsen it was far ahead of a 2011 debate on CNBC with GOP candidates, which reached 3.3 million viewers.
Conservative commentators weighed in after the debate and on social media regarding CNBC's performance.
Brent Bozell's Media Research Center, a well-known conservative media monitoring company, released a statement deeming the CNBC debate an "encyclopedic example of liberal media bias."
"The CNBC moderators acted less like journalists and more like [Hillary] Clinton campaign operatives," said Bozell.
Ari Fleischer, former White House Press Secretatry for George W. Bush, and conservative columnists Mona Charen and John Podhoretz also addressed the issue.
The biggest losers so far are 2 CNBC moderators who are taunting the candidates, instead of questioning them.—@AriFleischer
theory--someone at RNC thought, hey, CNBC, they're pro-business—@jpodhoretz
This debate between Republican candidates and the CNBC moderators will continue in a moment.—@monacharenEPPC
With files from CBC News and Reuters