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Do debates lure fringe candidates?

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Sept. 7, 2011: Republican presidential candidates stand on stage before a presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.Reuters

NBC must be mighty peeved at the Republicans for being shoved out of the 2016 debate-a-thon, right? 

After all, hosting debates in the heat of the presidential primaries brings plenty of attention and ratings, not to mention a bright spotlight on your star anchors. 

But after the party spanked both NBC and CNN for their forthcoming Hillary biopics by cutting them out of the 2016 action, Chuck Todd has weighed in with ... well, a bit of praise. 

Todd, who has called NBC's entertainment effort a "nightmare," buried any sense of frustration, calling the GOP's move smart politics. 

"About half the Republican field from 2012-if they didn't have the debates they wouldn't have run, right?" NBC's political director and chief White House correspondent told viewers. "They simply ran for exposure to get a talk show, or for exposure to get a radio deal, or a column, or a deal with Fox, or whatever. Whatever it is, their reasons for running, it wasn't really because they thought they had a viable shot." 

Well, it's true that lots of fringe candidates run for the exposure. How else could Herman Cain have become famous? But that was true even before the birth of cable news. 

And yes, there were too many GOP debates in 2012, just like there were too many Democratic faceoffs in 2008, and everyone felt overloaded. But the candidates kept saying yes, and as the primaries moved from New Hampshire to South Carolina to Florida and other key battlegrounds, who wanted to be the one to stiff the next batch of voters? (Cable news outlets often partner with local media organizations for the debates.) 

But there is a difference between a party saying it will sanction no more than, say, 10 debates and decreeing it will not cooperate with two networks because it doesn't like projects that haven't aired yet (and in CNN's case doesn't even have a script yet). That sounds more like trying to pick the moderators rather than just control the schedule-and cutting the party off from the independent voters who watch two major networks. 

Interesting that NBC's entertainment chief is now making noises that maybe the Hillary miniseries will never see the light of day.    

I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that some debates will air on NBC and CNN after all. Either the Hillary projects won't air, or they'll air and won't be as puffy as people expect, or they'll be favorable but the controversy will blow over. By 2015, with Reince Priebus already having scored points with his base for standing up to the so-called liberal media, it will be in both sides' interest to come up with a compromise. 

Hillary Round the Clock 

Is the New York Times boosting Hillary for 2016 by assigning a fulltime reporter to cover her? 

The answer, according to the paper's public editor, Margaret Sullivan, is maybe. 

"It's a major use of precious reportorial resources, considering that Mrs. Clinton holds no public office and has not said that she's running for one, she writes. Noting that the aggressive Clinton reporter, Amy Chozick, says she lives in "constant fear" of being beaten, Sullivan says: "If the intense and competitive coverage produces stories that serve the unintended purpose of promoting a candidacy in waiting, the reader-as-citizen loses. If that coverage digs beneath the surface to ferret out what ought to be known, the reader-as-citizen wins." 

On balance, it makes sense for the Times to have a reporter bird-dogging the once-and-possibly-future presidential contender. Chozick co-authored a penetrating piece examining tensions and conflicts at the Clinton Foundation. 

And the campaign is kinda sorta under way, which is why Clinton confidantes like Harold Ickes are involved with a pro-Hillary PAC. And why the Wall Street Journal reported that Joe Biden "hasn't ruled out a bid for the White House" even if Hillary runs, according to "people familiar with his thinking." (Such stories don't magically appear.) 

Still, I have the nagging feeling that the media are in fact coronating Hillary three years in advance by in effect treating her as the incumbent Democratic nominee. This may not be good for her, in that people may simply get tired of her by the time the Iowa caucuses roll around, and it may not be good for a press corps that pronounced her the inevitable nominee back in 2008. 

Katie Vs. Kim 

This is the thanks that Katie Couric gets for sending a baby gift? 

The former CBS anchor, now hosting a syndicated daytime show, was thoughtful enough to send a little something to Kim Kardashian and Kanye West for their new infant. What's not to like? 

Well, Kardashian saw it as a chance to score some attention (shocking, I know) after Couric made a comment she didn't like. 

"I don't understand-why are they so famous?" Couric told In Touch Weekly, speaking of the Kardashians. A question that America has asked itself many times. 

That sent Kim scrambling to Twitter with these huffy hashtags: "#IHateFakeMediaFriends" and 

"#MayIHumblySuggestYouNotSendGiftsThenTalkSh-t." 

Having been dissed by the reality show star, Couric undoubtedly used her Twitter account to talk smack back, right? Nope. 

Katie took the high road, telling E! News that she was merely "explaining how I'm intrigued by the public's fascination with her family," she said. "I didn't mean to hurt her feelings. The gift is genuine, and I'm happy for Kim and Kanye." 

There's a name for that: it's called class. 

Grunwald's Blunder 

I don't have to slam Time's Michael Grunwald for his horribly insensitive tweet about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. He has already scolded himself: 

"It was a dumb tweet. I'm sorry. I deserve the backlash. (Maybe not the anti-Semitic stuff but otherwise I asked for it.)" 

The eye-popping Twitter message was as follows: "I can't wait to write a defense of the drone strike that takes out Julian Assange." 

No matter what you think of Assange and his rather indiscriminate release of classified documents, wishing him a violent death, even in jest, is beyond the pale. 

The magazine was quick to distance itself, calling the tweet "offensive" and "in no way representative of Time's views." 

Few of us are immune from occasionally saying dumb things on Twitter. I'm sure Grunwald wishes he hadn't hit send on this one.

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.