Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump spoke with moderator Matt Lauer at NBC's national security forum on Sept. 7. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Donald Trump on Sunday accused the news media of "gaming the system" ahead of the presidential debates, saying the criticism that followed Matt Lauer's performance as moderator of a candidate forum this month is designed to set the Republican nominee up for harsher scrutiny.

Trump's theory is that journalists are trying to use negative reviews of Lauer to put pressure on the debate moderators, Lester Holt, Martha Raddatz, Anderson Cooper and Chris Wallace. They will be so afraid of getting Lauer-style criticism from their peers, according to Trump, that they will attack the business mogul.

"They hammered Lauer, but Matt did a fine job," Trump said on Fox News Channel's "Media Buzz." "Matt was very tough on me. So what happens is by — it's called gaming the system, like a great basketball coach like Bobby Knight, who was one of the greats. He would hit the referee and keep hitting him, and then at the end he was hoping for that favorable call. Well, they're hitting Matt Lauer, and that's sort of indicative of what they're — they're trying to game the system. They want — and this, I think, is terrible — they want the hosts to go after Trump. And that's what they're doing by gaming the system."

Trump appears to be doing the same thing but with the opposite goal — trying to soften up the moderators by making them fear accusations of bias. He said Thursday in an interview with The Washington Post that Cooper will be "very biased" and should not be a moderator, indicating that Trump might cry foul if he does not like the questions he is asked.