Another Fox News debate, another two hours of proof that the “fair and balanced” network is nothing more than a super PAC for Marco Rubio, who, by the way, had a terrible night. In their naked pursuit of Donald Trump’s scalp, moderators Chris Wallace, Bret Baier, and Megyn Kelly used every cheap trick in the book.
None of the other candidates faced dramatic graphics. Trump did. None of the other candidates faced video of past statements.* Trump did.
Trump was never asked to attack his rivals. On at least three occasions, Trump’s rivals were invited to attack him.
WALLACE: But it was your video and the serious question is, because the suggestion is, do you think that Donald Trump is naive about the threat that Vladimir Putin represents?
WALLACE: Mr. Trump opposes any increase because he says it will price American workers out of the world market. Is he wrong about that?
WALLACE: Senator Rubio … Please tell Mr. Trump why he’s unprepared to be commander-in- chief.
On a number of occasions, Wallace and Kelly tossed off their roles as moderators to actually debate Trump, in the hopes of tripping him up or cornering him. As bad as the mainstream media has been to Republican presidential candidates over the years, I have never seen anything like this.
This is just one of those exchanges. Here Kelly compares Trump to a con man and Bernie Madoff!
KELLY: Let me just set the record, and then you guys can have at it. There was Trump University, which was a business that you started, and it was marketed…
TRUMP: … Small business…
KELLY: … to many people, and now there is a class-action of over 5,000 plaintiffs against you, Mr. Trump…
TRUMP: … Right…
KELLY: … And, it involves veterans, and it involves teachers, and it involves so-called little guys, working class, and lower- working class and middle class who say that they were fleeced, who say that it was as scam. The class has been certified, and in that case you counter-sued the lead plaintiff alleging that you were being defamed.
TRUMP: That case was thrown out against her…
TRUMP: … The lead plaintiff is now getting out of the case because it’s so bad for her…
KELLY: … But, what happened was…
TRUMP: … Excuse me, the lead plaintiff signed a letter saying how great it was, and it on tape saying how great it was.
KELLY: OK, no, but — standby. But, what happened in that case was you counter-sued her. The court threw out your counter-suit, and made you pay almost $800,000 dollars in legal fees of hers, and you made the same argument about 98 percent of the people being happy with Trump University. And, that woman in particular signing a survey saying she liked it while someone was standing over her shoulder…
TRUMP: … She’s trying to get out of the case. She’s trying to get out of the case…
KELLY: … And this is what — standby, this is what the Court of Appeals found. They said that the plaintiffs against you are like the Madoff victims…
TRUMP: Oh, give me a break…
KELLY: … This is what the Court of Appeals said.
TRUMP: Give me a break.
KELLY: This is what the court of appeals said.
TRUMP: Give me a break.
KELLY: They found that victims of con artists often sing the praises of their victimizers until they realize they have been fleeced.
TRUMP: You know what, let’s see what happens in court. This is a civil case. Very easy to have settled. Could settle it now. Very easy to have settled. Let’s see what happens at the end of a couple years when this case is over, OK?
KELLY: It has been going for five years.
TRUMP: Yes, it has been going for a long time.
UPDATE: Kelly also all but declared Trump a liar for his clam that Trump University received an “A” rating from the Better Business Bureau. It looks like she did not do her homework.
There were two unbelievable moments even lower than that. The first came from Kelly, who used leaked reports and unsubstantiated rumors surrounding an off-the-record interview Trump supposedly had with the left-wing New York Times. Apparently, the Times leaked information about the off-the-record interview to the left-wing BuzzFeed, who in turn, without hearing the audio, launched a McCarthy-ite attack against Trump, accusing him of saying one thing to the Times and another to the voters regarding immigration.
BuzzFeed then demanded Trump prove he’s not a communist liar.
There is nothing more sacred in journalism than an off-the-record situation. This is supposed to be inviolable. To see the New York Times and BuzzFeed behave in this way is one thing. To see Megyn Kelly and Fox News use a sacred off-the-record conversation to launch a relentless McCarthy-ite attack, was beyond disgraceful.
Here are the lowlights:
KELLY: Back in January, you gave an off-the-record interview to the New York Times. It was apparently audiotaped. Now, a recent report in Buzzfeed citing sources at the Times reports that in that interview you expressed flexibility when it comes to your immigration policy, specifically with respect to your promise to deport the 11 million people who are now living here illegally. You have suggested that you may have expressed some flexibility when it comes to the size of the wall that you want to build. But did you tell them, specifically, that you are flexible when it comes to your deportation plan? …
KELLY: Mr. Trump, we will let respond, but will you release the tapes? Will you authorize of The Times to release the tapes? …
KELLY: Will you release the tapes?
KELLY: Are you now or have you ever lied about immigration?
Okay, I made up that last one.
This is Fox News going way beyond anything we’ve seen in the past from CNBC’s John Harwood or ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.
In the future, any Republican stupid enough to talk to the New York Times, BuzzFeed, or Fox News in an off-the-record capacity, deserves whatever knife he or she gets in the back.
Near the end of the debate, Fox News became a parody of itself by airing the last 30 seconds or so of this anti-Trump ad from the John Kasich campaign:
After the clip played and everyone had a good laugh at Trump’s expense, this was Wallace’s question to Kasich:
But it was your video and the serious question is, because the suggestion is, do you think that Donald Trump is naive about the threat that Vladimir Putin represents?
Fox News’s brand and reputation is already in freefall. Thursday night, in service to Marco Rubio and the Republican Establishment, Fox News stooped lower than NBC News or CNN — something many of us never thought possible.
*To justify singling Trump out with graphics and videos, Fox News announced at the beginning that the other candidates had faced these in the debate Trump boycotted.
Transcript courtesy of The Washington Post.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC