CNBC debate controversy brings high viewership, negative PR

CNBC debate controversy brings high viewership, negative PR

The GOP debate was the center of controversy on Wednesday night, but it was CNBC that ended up receiving the negative PR instead of the presidential candidates. The network has since faced heavy criticisms over their staff’s handling of the debate.  


CNBC moderators for GOP debate

(Yahoo! News)

CNBC moderators attempted to use the debate as their chance to ask hard-hitting questions, but this backfired as the candidates and many audience members didn’t seem to appreciate this format. Brian Steel, CNBC’s spokesman, said in an email: “People who want to be President of the United States should be able to answer tough questions.” However, many viewed this approach as the network presenting a liberal bias.   


The audience showed the biggest reaction after they booed a question asked by moderator Carl Quintanilla to Republican candidate Ben Carson. Quintanilla inquired about Carson’s involvement with the multi-level marketing firm Mannatech after the company faced a controversial lawsuit. Carson said he wasn’t involved with Mannatech and that the statement is “total propaganda.” After Quintanilla continued to question Carson on the topic, the audience voiced their disapproval over the line of questioning with loud boos.      


While part of the problem came from the moderator’s decision keep pushing questions on candidates, they also gave up too easily at times. Moderator Becky Quick asked presidential candidate Donald Trump about his statement that fellow candidate Marco Rubio is “Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator” due to Rubio’s stance on the H-1B visa program. Trump denied this claim, and Quick apologized for using what she thought was misinformation.


Donald Trump's "Zuckerberg" comment about Marco Rubio


Trump’s Zuckerberg comment was found posted on his website, which means Quick’s question wasn’t filled with inaccuracies, as the candidate claimed. While Quick may have been correct, her apology made it seem as if she was in the wrong to the audience in that moment. This led to negative PR for CNBC, because many viewers thought the moderators were using unreliable sources and inaccurate information during an important debate. If CNBC would have drawn attention to Quick’s correct Trump quote after the debate, it could have helped reduce some of the criticisms thrown their way.


CNBC may have been given a lot of negative attention over the debate, but this controversy was quite beneficial for the network. Around 14 million people ended up tuning into the debate, which is the highest viewership CNBC has ever had for a single program. An executive at NBCUniversal called Wednesday the “most profitable night in the network’s history,” since advertisers paid $250,000 each for their ads to air.  


CNBC has avoided commenting on the recent PR disaster, but this has done little to help their image. If CNBC reacts to the public criticism soon, by either defending their handling of the debate or apologizing, it could help mitigate the PR damage being done.                          


Was CNBC in the wrong? What could they moderators have done better? Leave a comment or talk to me on Twitter @Karbowski_Devon.


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