GOP debate becomes a two-ring circus

When it comes to tagging a group with the circus label because of behavior that veers toward the clownish, it seems two can play the game.

So it was that the big storyline from Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate became the table-turning focus on the CNBC media panel, with the candidates and various pundits charging the journalists with showcasing the sort of unhinged antics that should be beneath a forum that’s vetting potential leaders of the free world.

It’s been easy to disparage the GOP field. Of the two top-polling candidates, one seems to equate strong leadership with an ability to spew the strongest put-downs of anyone in his path, while the other, accomplished as he may be in an operating room, inspires little confidence that he’s remotely ready to oversee the situation room.

But it was the reporters on Wednesday who came in for the tough reviews. The CNBC panel, anchored by a trio of reporters who were joined by a rotating cast of supporting players, showed no ability to manage the event, with a who’s-on-first chaos permeating the whole affair.

The Globe‘s Jeff Jacoby pronounced the media “the biggest loser” of the night. Northeastern University journalism professor Dan Kennedy agreed, calling the panel’s behavior “sneering and disrespectful.”

That certainly seemed true with the opening question, when John Harwood asked Donald Trump whether his was a “comic-book version of a presidential campaign.” Neurosurgeon Ben Carson‘s proficiency at basic math was questioned. And on it went.

But the problem with the panel was much more one of form than content. Harwood’s comic-book zinger may have been sophomoric, but it was preceded by laying out some of Trump’s more fanciful pronouncements on taxes and his vow to magically send some 11 million undocumented immigrants packing back over the border. Meanwhile, Carson’s tax-cutting plans (and those of several other GOP hopefuls) just don’t pass muster with serious, nonpartisan arbiters of such matters, who say they end up providing a windfall to the wealthy while blowing holes through the deficit.

There were plenty of serious questions posed — and lots of dissembling by candidates in response. The panelists often seemed unprepared to hold candidates accountable with citations readily at their fingertips.

The problem is not one of asking candidates tough questions. Rather it is the trend among debate panelists and moderators toward the spectacle. They seem to think the point is to pose tough questions in some clever way that will stand out and get noticed. They’re looking with their questions for the soundbite that will go viral as much as candidates are with their answers.

That seemed to be what bothered WBZ’s Jon Keller, who has refereed more than a few such rodeos. “I prefer to ask substantive questions and then play traffic cop, letting the candidates challenge each other and leaving the voters to decide who is credible and who isn’t without guidance from me,” he said in his post-mortem of Wednesday’s Boulder-dash.

By eschewing that approach and instead packaging what are often serious and entirely legitimate questions in gaudy wrapping paper designed to get a rise out candidates, some of the same journalists who seem utterly befuddled by Trump’s appeal seem to be taking a page from his coarse and clownish ways.

MICHAEL JONAS

 

BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker says the troubled Department of Children and Families will review the past work of a social worker in the Bella Bond case who copied from old reports when filing documents on the case of the 2-year-old girl. (Boston Globe) A Herald editorial says a top-to-bottom reform of the agency can’t come soon enough.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission backs fantasy sports regulation. (CommonWealth) Michael Levenson writes that the Legislature is scrambling on many fronts to keep up with technology-driven developments, including fantasy sports, Uber, and Airbnb, that raise novel questions for lawmakers and regulators. (Boston Globe) Moving the state Lottery online could be next. (Boston Globe)

It’s only the first year of a two-year legislative session, but still, not much has gotten done on Beacon Hill. (CommonWealth)

Governing explains how bathrooms have become the focal point of the debate over transgender rights in Massachusetts and across the country.

A lawyer for former House speaker Tom Finneran slams as politically motivated a decision by the state retirement board to appeal a district court judge’s ruling that reinstates Finneran’s pension. (Boston Herald)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The State Ethics Commission has fined a former Marshfield Conservation Commission member $2,500 for conflict of interest violations after he admitted using his position to influence a bidding process with a marina then retaliating against the marina when he didn’t get a renovation contract. (Patriot Ledger)

The Lawrence Board of Registrars gives the green light for a recall effort of Mayor Daniel Rivera, but the effort remains bogged down in bureaucratic infighting. (Eagle-Tribune)

The tiny-house movement comes to Rockport, as Michael Kelly builds a house that is 18 feet by 20 feet. (Gloucester Times)

CASINOS

Wynn Resorts drops the nightclub planned for its proposed casino in Everett, citing the early last call. (CommonWealth)

Writing on behalf of MGM Resorts International in its lawsuit against the state of Connecticut, former attorney general Eric Holder argues that the Nutmeg State’s gaming law is unconstitutional since it gives “the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribes the exclusive right to establish commercial casinos.” (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

A teary-eyed John Boehner (actually, is there any other kind?) bids farewell as House speaker and says he has no regrets. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

Gov. Charlie Baker, who received key early support in his election bid from Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch, is set to announce a state grant to boost the downtown redevelopment project with Koch at his side just days before the tight mayoral election. (Patriot Ledger)

Jeb Bush: I’m not dead yet! (Boston Globe)

Gov. Christie: Time to go home!” Sincerely, the New York Times.

The Herald News calls for a “fresh start” for the Fall River City Council, endorsing seven newcomers in Tuesday’s election and only two incumbents.

The Berkshire Eagle finds Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi lacks the temperament to lead and endorses his challenger City Clerk Linda Tyler. CommonWealth explored the controversy over the mayor’s handling of the city’s affirmative action controversy last year.

The Globe endorses at-large councilors Ayanna Pressley and Michelle Wu for re-election and offers an unusual half-endorsement of Michael Flaherty and Annissa Essabai George in the same race. The paper also backs district councilor Tim McCarthy for reelection, and says challenger Andrea Campbell deserves the nod in her district race to unseat 32-year incumbent Charles Yancey.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A drop in federal funding coupled with an increase in demand for fuel assistance will mean less money available this winter for home heating subsidies. (State House News)

The Chronicle of Philanthropy comes out with its annual Top 400 list of charities and reports that the nation’s biggest nonprofits raised 5 percent more than the previous year, with donor-advised funds the biggest winners.

The sneaker buying and reselling market has become a profitable business for some teens. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Former state senator Barry Finegold says “charterizing” the Lawrence schools is the wrong way to go. (CommonWealth) His column is a response to an earlier piece by Jim Stergios of the Pioneer Institute.

About 60 students at the James Sullivan Middle School in Lowell became sick with flu-like symptoms, prompting officials to evacuate the building and clean it top to bottom. (The Sun)

A new survey says one in 14 community college students already have bachelor’s degrees, with some schools showing enrollment by graduates as high as one in five as they seek career changes or improve job skills for promotions. (U.S. News & World Report)

After the South Carolina school assault incident, school districts are revisiting using police to discipline students. (Christian Science Monitor)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A subsidiary of Warner Chilcott agrees to a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in Boston that calls for the company to pay a $125 million fine for illegally marketing drugs. (Associated Press)

Blood-testing firm Theranos and its founder Elizabeth Holmes were riding high until an article in the Wall Street Journal came along questioning the company’s technology. (New York Times)

TRANSPORTATION

A plane bursts into flames on the runway at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. (Time)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A new report says climate change is a key factor in the decline of the cod population that is killing the fishing industry. (Associated Press)

A briefing on Kinder Morgan’s pipeline proposal for residents in Peabody takes place peacefully with nine police officers on hand. (Salem News)

Salem has a coyote problem. (Salem News)

Climate change is outpacing the Cape’s ability to deal with it. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Owen Labrie, the St. Paul’s prep school student convicted in the case involving sex with a 15-year-old student at the New Hampshire school, is sentenced to 1 year in jail. (Boston Globe)

There are nearly 1,000 unsolved homicides, dating back to 1970, that occurred in Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury. (Boston Herald)

State Rep. David Linksy says a 2014 state law imposing new background-check rules and restrictions on gun sales, passed with input from gun owners and dealers along with gun-control advocates, provides a model for Congress to follow. (CommonWealth)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to take a lead role in a national gun control campaign. (New York Times)

MEDIA

Spotlight, the reporters, talk about Spotlight, the movie. (Greater Boston) Renee Loth, writing for WBUR, says investigative reporting gets its due in Spotlight.

The New York Times Co. reports a $9 million third quarter profit.