FOX Business to take different approach to GOP debate

NEW YORK (AP) — Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo, one of the moderators for Tuesday's Republican presidential debate, says that while she wants to help viewers understand the differences between candidates, she's not looking to start brawls.

The fourth GOP debate — and first since a CNBC session left candidates grumbling about the journalists asking questions — takes place Tuesday night in Milwaukee. Bartiromo, FBN's Neil Cavuto and Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker will guide the two-hour discussion starting at 9 p.m. EDT.

It's also an opportunity for the relatively little-noticed business network, which will try to push its coverage in front of as many viewers as possible.

"You want to draw out the differences, but I don't think you need to draw (them) out taking somebody's head off and having a fight," Bartiromo said on Monday. "That does make good television but it's not really helping the viewer."

A tone was set from the beginning of the CNBC debate, when candidates were asked to reveal their greatest weakness and moderator John Harwood asked Donald Trump if he was running "a comic-book version of a presidential campaign."

The Republican National Committee reacted by pulling its sponsorship for an upcoming NBC News debate and some campaigns tried to wrest control of the debate process from the committee. There was a backlash, with President Obama wondering how the candidates would be able to face the nation's adversaries if they thought debate moderators were too tough.

Bartiromo said she believed that her former employers at CNBC exhibited a hostility toward and disdain for the candidates. She said it was a useful reminder that the purpose of debates is to educate voters.

She said she wants to talk about the economy and believes the biggest issue for voters on this topic is how to create new jobs.

The debate is designed to focus on economic issues, but Bartiromo said potential presidents must prove themselves adept at addressing a wide range of issues. Questions surrounding Ben Carson's claims of past incidents in his life have been front and center the past few days — leading Carson to strike back at the media — and Bartiromo said Fox won't be reluctant to bring the topic up. She talked to Carson about it on her daily show Monday.

She helped moderate a GOP candidates' debate in 2012, when she was one of CNBC's biggest stars. She expects it will be valuable experience for Tuesday night.

"It helps you to remember that anything can happen," she said. "You have to be able to think on your feet. You have to be able to react to unforeseen comments, unforeseen events."

The previous GOP debates set viewership records for Fox News Channel, CNN and CNBC. That's a virtual certainty Tuesday for FBN, although it would be a surprise if it reached the 14 million who tuned in to CNBC last month.

FBN is available in some 82 million homes in the United States, or a little more than three-quarters of the TV households. FBN will stream the debate online, and is trying to put the debate before a few million more TV viewers by "unbundling" the network. Some service providers, most notably DirecTV, place Fox Business Network on a more expensive programming tier, and FBN is urging those companies to let everyone with basic service see it.