NBC News and Telemundo kicked off last month's Democratic presidential debate by asking the first question of a presidential candidate within less than 2-and-a-half minutes. CNN, in contrast, waited 25 minutes to ask its first question, which became a problem since the first night of the debate had 10 candidates and only a scheduled two hours. "At the top of Tuesday’s Democratic debate, CNN wasted 25 minutes by, among other things, playing the national anthem, taking a commercial, reciting the rules and introducing the candidates," says Jennifer Rubin. "It was time that should have been spent questioning candidates, and worse, pushed the debate into overtime beyond the 2½-hour mark. Likewise, spending valuable minutes asking candidates to explain why they are electable does nothing to enlighten voters about the views of these candidates. One has to wonder who made these bizarre choices and why." As Jeva Lange points out, CNN "had spent eight days building its elaborate debate stage, and it appeared the network intended to milk every chance for wide-angle shots. After a minutes-long intro video setting up the stakes for the night, the candidates were invited one-by-one onto stage. There was then an elaborate presentation of colors and performance of the national anthem. Then — well, then there was a commercial break. After 15 minutes, the candidates were at last invited to deliver their prepared opening remarks. Only ten minutes later, though, did CNN finally dive into the substance of the debate by asking a question."
CNN's debate format was a frantic lightning round, but it's still an improvement: "Unfortunately the actual debate that followed quickly proved how hard it is to wrangle 10 people without either letting some go too long or cutting everyone too short," says Caroline Framke. '"Jake Tapper and Don Lemon tried so hard to keep everyone to their allotted time that the exchanges quickly turned into frantic lightning rounds, barely allowing anyone’s points to breathe, let alone sink in for the viewers." Framke adds: "CNN’s first debate felt more substantive than NBC’s first try, but not especially because the format was radically different. It just took a marginally more competitive matchup of candidates to make the proceedings feel more substantial, even if CNN mandated they speak roughly at the speed of light."
CNN kept framing debate questions around right-wing concerns: "People who tuned in to the Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday night could have been forgiven for thinking they accidentally turned the channel to Fox News," says Aaron Rupar. "At times during the debate, CNN hosts framed policy questions around Republican talking points...Though no Republicans were physically onstage on Tuesday night in Detroit, it too often seemed they were living rent-free inside the moderators’ heads... Even so, the debate sometimes felt like it was more about attacking progressive policy proposals or responding to Republican talking points than it was substantively exploring the differences between the candidates."