The Republican National Committee's attempts to negotiate more favorable terms for the remaining presidential debates has irked many reporters, and some have gone so far as to suggest that the GOP's efforts are a direct assault on freedom of the press.
"If media outlets give candidates veto power over moderators then our democracy is truly broken. Time for us all to take a stand," ABC News' Matthew Dowd said.
New York Times magazine's Julia Ioffe quipped, "For candidates who so love shouting about freedom, they're weirdly uncomfortable with the freedom of the press to ask them questions."
She added jokingly, "[F]rom what I understand, though, the 2nd Amendment allows shooting journalists if you feel threatened by their questions."
The RNC announced Friday that it is suspending its partnership with NBC News for a debate scheduled for Feb. 26, and explained that it has little confidence in the network's ability to moderate the event fairly. The RNC is also working with GOP candidates to retool previous debate agreements with partnered television networks.
The moves come as a direct result of CNBC's handling last week of the third televised showdown between the top-polling GOP candidates. The business news network, which is owned by NBCUniversal, has been roundly criticized for allowing the two-hour event to descend into a rowdy and chaotic ordeal made worse by the moderators' "weirdly hostile" and "biased" questioning.
Reporters in some of the nation's largest newsrooms have responded negatively to these developments, and some have suggested the RNC's attempts to broker more favorable debate settings border on a direct attack on the First Amendment.
The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza said incredulously, "Imagine if Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton teamed up to demand editorial control over how TV networks covered them?"
"Is there precedent 4 politicians demanding editorial control over news decisions like this?" he asked later.
The Washington Post's Erik Wemple wondered aloud, "Haven't seen media orgs rushing to denounce idea that candidates could control bios/graphics in debates. Did I miss something here?"
"Do these Republican candidates think they're running for president of North Korea?" the Daily Beast's Olivia Nuzzi asked. "Imagine what any candidate whining about the debates would do to freedom of speech if they were elected president."
"The CNBC debate was a disaster, but f***ing suck it up," she added.
CNN's Dylan Byers called the RNC's efforts "ridiculous."
Absent from these criticisms is any mention of when the Democratic National Committee blocked Fox News in 2007 from hosting a primary debate. Left-leaning bloggers, the 2008 presidential candidates, including then-Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and the DNC itself complained that Fox was too biased to handle the job. As a result, the cable news giant was unable to participate in the primary process, as the DNC outright denied it a "formal stamp of approval" for a debate.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said Friday in a letter to the NBC chairman Andrew Lack, "The RNC's sole role in the primary debate process is to ensure that our candidates are given a full and fair opportunity to lay out their vision for America's future. We simply cannot continue with NBC without full consultation with our campaigns."
"The CNBC network is one of your media properties, and its handling of the debate was conducted in bad faith. We understand that NBC does not exercise full editorial control over CNBC's journalistic approach. However, the network is an arm of your organization, and we need to ensure there is not a repeat performance," the letter added.
CNBC and NBC News operate independently of one another. However, reporters and pundits from both NBCUniversal-owned networks regularly swap in and out of each other's shows either to report or comment on the news.
The scheduled February debate will move forward for now without NBC or Telemundo, and it will feature only National Review in a moderating role.
On Sunday, Republican attorney Ben Ginsberg met with representatives from 13 GOP campaigns to discuss how best to avoid a repeat of the CNBC "debacle." The result of the summit was a draft agreement containing more than two-dozen questions and recommendations to be delivered to TV networks.
Ginsburg later amended the document on Monday to better clarify the GOP candidates' 28 requests regarding all future debates.
"What is the estimated audience for the debate? Will it be disseminated online? By radio? Will it be disseminated by other means and do you have any additional partners?" read one bullet point in the letter.
Another set of questions read, "Will there be questions from the audience or social media? How many? How will they be presented to the candidates? Will you acknowledge that you, as the sponsor, take responsibility for all questions asked, even if not asked by your personnel?"
No Republican candidate has signed the agreement.
Real estate mogul Donald Trump is reportedly planning to ignore the document and will instead deal with TV networks directly, the Washington Post reported Monday evening.