CNBC's Republican presidential debate Wednesday night was the most-watched telecast in the cable network's history even though it trailed earlier contests on Fox and CNN.
An average of 14 million viewers tuned in, according to Nielsen data reported Thursday by Comcast Corp.'s CNBC, compared with 24 million for the August debate on Fox and 15 million for the September event on CNN.
A debate about the economy on a business channel started with less built-in appeal than the mainstream cable networks. It also went up against the World Series and the second day of official NBA play.
The candidates steered the event, moderated by CNBC's Carl Quintanilla, Becky Quick and John Harwood, toward topics other than the economy -- often focusing on the media itself, complaining about the format, the moderators' questions and journalists' coverage of the Democrats.
"CNBC should be ashamed of how this debate was handled," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement the RNC issued after the debate. He called the moderators' questioning "exceptionally unfortunate."
The network, in its statement, called the event "a hard-hitting debate that changed the course of the Republican primary."
Texas Senator Ted Cruz sidestepped a question about his opposition to the budget deal reached by Congress and President Obama this week, and instead launched into a critique of the media.
"You know, let me say something at the outset. The questions that have been asked so far in thisdebate illustrate why the American people don't trust the media," Mr. Cruz said. "This is not a cage match, and if you look at the questions -- Donald Trump are you a comic book villain, Ben Carson can you do math, John Kasich will you insult two people over here, Marco Rubio why don't you resign, Jeb Bush why have your numbers fallen -- how about talking about the substantive issues people care about."
-- Bloomberg News