WASHINGTON, District of Columbia — At a press conference held late Friday evening, Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus announced details of a proposed Republican presidential debate that would be televised on Al Jazeera America, the critically acclaimed, ratings-challenged Oatar-backed news channel.
Mr. Priebus told reporters that Al Jazeera America had agreed to all conditions proposed by the RNC, and he was satisfied that the debate would not be “another setup by the liberal media.”
He acknowledged that many of the Republican presidential candidates were unhappy with the conditions the RNC had agreed to in the debates held so far.
“I know many of our presidential candidates have expressed some concern regarding how some of the details in the debate process have been handled to this point,” he said.
“While we believe most of the debate details have been handled well, I want you to know that at the RNC we have heard your concerns and take them very seriously. So we come forward today with a plan we feel will be acceptable to everyone.”
The RNC Chairman said that the agreement with Al Jazeera America would remedy the complaint by the candidates that the debate moderated by CNBC had been “a stalking horse for the Hillary Clinton campaign.”
“We feel we can trust them better than the liberal gotcha media because they are a disinterested party with no illusion that they can influence American voters,” Mr. Priebus said.
Although he revealed some debate terms already agreed upon, Mr. Priebus explained that Al Jazeera will allow flexibility for further adjustments of debate rules based on his negotiations with the Republican presidential candidates.
Preliminary Debate Terms Agreement
- The RNC will preapprove all debate questions.
- Candidates will be allowed to provide unlimited expanded details when answering questions.
- Candidates can elect to skip a question.
- Candidates can position one portable, battery-operated cooling fan on their body or anywhere on the podium.
- During the broadcast, Al Jazeera cameras will pan the debate audience for positive reaction shots and applauses when candidates respond to questions.
- During the broadcast, Al Jazeera technicians will use 10-second audio delay software that will be controlled by an RNC staffer. The audio delay software will be programmed to replace any reference a candidate makes to “the establishment” with a prerecorded audio snippet of “the Democratic Party.”
- Al Jazeera will provide a list of thoroughly vetted moderators, from which the RNC will select three or four.
Mr. Priebus said he was satisfied with the list of moderators Al Jazeera provided and had been assured that they were not “card-carrying Democratic activists or Democratic voters.”
Proposed Al Jazeera Debate Moderators
- Mehdi Hasan, senior political analyst, Al Jazeera English.
- Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, international reporter, Al Jazeera English.
- Hashem Ahelbarra, American affairs reporter, Al Jazeera English.
- Mohammed Jamjoom, culture and lifestyle analyst, Al Jazeera English.
- Ash-har Quraishi, business reporter, Al Jazeera English.
- Hoda Abel-Hamid, political analyst, Al Arabiya News Channel.
- Mohammed Adow, news director, Saudi TV Channel 1.
- Ali Mustafa, managing editor, Qatar Tribune.
Robert Melton, political historian at American University and author of Charlatans, Pugilists, and Sideshow Clowns: Infamous Moments in American Political Debates, suspects Mr. Priebus did not revealing all details of the negotiations with Al Jazeera America.
Speaking in an interview in his office in Washington, D.C., Mr. Melton wondered if more was involved than what would seemed to be a ratings coup for Al Jazeera America.
“On its face it look like a win-win for Al Jazeera in their desperate struggle to get more viewers,” he said. “I mean, if they get 24 million viewers like Fox did with the first Republican debate, that’ll be more viewers than they’ve had in total for the whole time they’ve been on the air.”
Mr. Melton also said he would not be surprised if there was a “sweetheart deal” between the RNC and Al Jazeera America.
“Look, the Qataris like to throw money around, and they’ve got plenty of it to scatter around. I wouldn’t be surprised if the RNC got a big fat donation from the Qataris. But certainly Reince would make sure that part never got out.”
At the press conference, Mr. Priebus said he had dispatched staffers to meet with the Republican presidential candidates to review and seek approval for the debate terms.
There are eight debates left in the Republican primary election cycle. The next one will be hosted by Fox Business Network on November 10 in Milwaukee. Mr. Priebus said he has targeted a date “before Xmas” for the Al Jazeera debate.
If the proposed debate on Al Jazeera America is as successful as the debate held on the Fox News channel, Mr. Priebus said he would probably schedule more debates on Al Jazeera America to replace a debate scheduled to be moderated by CNN in December and for debates in February 2016 currently scheduled to be hosted by ABC News, CBS News, and NBC/Telemundo.
Annis Minor-DeMinimus covers dynamics of 2016 presidential elections campaigns.