Campaigns, Critics Pan CNN Debate: ‘Will This Ever End?’

By Mark Joyella 

CNN may get great news from Nielsen with overnight ratings later today, but the reviews for last night’s Republican presidential debate were mixed, at best. Yahoo’s Ken Tucker said “as programming scheduled by a news channel with the announced intent of enlightening the public–the CNN debate was a mess at once hectic and tedious.”

Politico’s Hadas Gold was blunt: it was “the debate from Hell.” The campaigns, Gold reports, were nearly unanimous in criticizing the format as “both too long and too loosely governed.”

Newsweek’s Daniel D’Addario found the debate format a sort of free-for-all that may have been good for the candidates, but hardly helpful for viewers. “For the casual voter, following the debate was like tuning halfway into an episode from the second season of Game of Thrones and trying to follow along. There were too many characters, too many subplots and, at three hours, simply too much of everything.”

CNN president Jeff Zucker told Politico the debate was “exactly how long we wanted it to be and covered all the issues we wanted it to get to.” Reviewers disagreed, calling it too long–USA Today reports it was, in fact, the longest debate ever, by far.

At Slate, Justin Peters called the debate an “utter failure” that didn’t manage to inform or entertain. “Wednesday’s three-hour debate might have been the worst debate I can remember.” Peters argues CNN’s format created a debate that “was characterized by unanswered questions and unasked follow-ups.”

CNN’s interrogative strategy seemed particularly weak in comparison with last month’s Fox New debate, which was lively and great. The Fox moderators often asked sharp questions that made the candidates uncomfortable, just as they should have. CNN, by contrast, seemed determined to encourage the candidates to make ​each other​ feel uncomfortable. The candidates mostly didn’t take the bait, and the result was a boring and inessential three-hour snoozefest.

Writing in the The Baltimore Sun, David Zurawik said the debate had its moments, especially Carly Fiorina’s performance, but overall fell flat.

“I never felt moderator Jake Tapper had the kind of control or authority that the troika of Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier had in the Fox News debate last month,” Zurawik writes. “And three hours and change was about one hour too long. I’m a political junkie and I was checking my watch when it ran past 11 p.m. thinking, ‘Will this ever end?'”

Ken Tucker said “three hours rarely felt so long.”