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ABC scraps debate partnership with New Hampshire paper

Debate moderators ABC News anchor David Muir and correspondent Martha Raddatz talk to the audience before the start of the Democratic presidential candidates debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire December 19, 2015.

REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Last Updated Jan 11, 2016 9:55 AM EST

ABC News has ended its partnership with the New Hampshire Union Leader for an upcoming Republican debate on Feb. 6, a spokesperson for the network confirmed.

The New Hampshire newspaper was supposed to have a "co-branding" role but not any representatives on stage questioning the candidates. The spokesperson said the change would have "zero impact on the editorial content of the debate."

The Union Leader published the contents of some emails it received from ABC News Vice President Robin Sproul which said the network wanted to ensure candidates felt that the debate partners were "not biased in favor of or against anyone on the debate stage."

"We felt that the current war of words with Trump, coupled with the endorsement already made, put us in a difficult position -- there was just too much distraction from what we need to accomplish in the debate," Sproul said.

She was referring to the newspaper's November endorsement of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, as well as a public spat with Republican candidate Donald Trump. It began with a scathing front-page editorial in which the Union Leader's publisher, Joe McQuaid, wrote that the the belief that Trump will win the GOP nomination is "an insult to the intelligence of Republican voters."

After ABC's decision, McQuaid said, "We are amused by ABC News apparently just discovering that we endorse candidates and write editorials. We have been doing both for many years and it has never been a problem with ABC or other debate sponsors."

"We consider ABC's actions to be spineless," he added, accusing ABC of "bowing to the [Democratic National Committee] and Trump."

"ABC is more concerned about appeasing the parties and candidates than informing voters," he said.

The DNC dropped ABC's Manchester, New Hampshire television affiliate WMUR from ABC's December Democratic debate because of an unresolved labor dispute. This time, one of the station's anchors will be included in the debate, alongside ABC's David Muir and Martha Raddatz. They will also have the Independent Journal Review as a conservative partner, although their precise role is still in the works.

An ABC source said the relationship between the network and the newspaper had been strained since December, when they also partnered for the Democratic debate.

In a series of tweets, Trump took credit for ABC's decision and continued his attacks on the paper.

This article has been updated to include comments from ABC.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.