As more time passes since the CNN/YouTube Republican debacle, I find myself thinking about it more and more. And I think I have figured out just why it annoyed me so much: it’s the senseless waste, the sheer hubris and stupidity that CNN displayed that is the biggest problem I have.
I slept through the debate (my circadians are seriously messed up), but I went back and reviewed the questions asked by the Democratic plants.
“Will you eliminate farm subsidies?”
“How will you keep lead-laced toys out of my home?”
“If abortion is illegal, what should the punishment be?”
(paraphrased) “Will you allow gays to openly serve in the military?”
“Do you accept the support of log cabin republicans?”
“Repay the $2 trillion borrowed from Social Security?”
“Why don’t many African-Americans vote Republican?”
“Mr. Paul, are you going to run as an independent?”
Apart from that last one, those were pretty good questions. There were some other good ones, too, and a few clunkers that, quite frankly, should not have made the cut. (The Confederate Flag one and the Bible one come to mind — those just play up the stereotypes and biases CNN and the like have against Republicans.)
So, what’s the problem? In the unfair way CNN handled them.
First up, they didn’t identify the questioners as Democratic activists, confirmed supporters of Democratic candidates, or — in one case — advisor to a Democratic candidate. These men aren’t running for president, they’re running for the Republican nomination for president. The questioners have a clear conflict of interest — they aren’t looking to find the candidate they can most comfortably vote for, but to sabotage them. Nothing wrong with that, though — the questions themselves were pretty damned good ones.
But as the old saying goes, “it’s not the crime that gets you, it’s the cover-up.” By allowing these shills to make it through the screening process, CNN allowed the post-debate coverage to focus on who they were and not what they asked, and made themselves — and their sheer ineptitude, partisan agenda, or both — the center point of the discussion. And whenever the media becomes part of the story, especially to the point of becoming the most important part of the story, then they have betrayed their duty to report the news — not make it.
But far more shameful for CNN is that they only sandbagged one side. The Democrats had their own CNN/YouTube debate, and that would have been an ideal time to allow their candidates face equally challenging questions. Oh, there were a couple good ones, but I’d have liked to see them answer a variant of the same question I kept hammering John Kerry over back in 2004:
“The president is the Chief Executive of the nation. It is the most active, most singularly powerful office in government. In many ways, the president IS the executive branch. Could you each cite some of your own executive experiences, times when you’ve been the singular leader, the decider? And as a followup, could you each cite the three achievements of your political careers of which you’re most proud?”
Attention, CNN: it’s not the planting, it’s the hypocrisy. It’s not the toughness of the questions, it’s the lying by omission of their agenda. Either treat both sides equally, or come out and admit that you’re not going to do so. A lot of people were convinced going in that the Republicans would be treated considerably less fairly at your forum, but only the most cynical thought it would be so many of the questions — and so readily sought out. Look at the facts — CNN claims to be “the most trusted name in news,” and boasts of its investigative powers and journalistic excellence, yet within 24 hours nearly a full quarter of the questioners were revealed to be confirmed supporters of Democratic candidates, Democratic activists, and — I’m gonna keep harping on this one — an advisor to a candidate. And that one, CNN, you FLEW IN FROM ACROSS THE COUNTRY TO REPEAT AND EXPOUND ON HIS QUESTION. You singled out Kerr for special attention, but you never expended the casual efforts it took to discover his role in Hillary Clinton’s campaign? That level of incompetence goes beyond any shred of credibility.
It’s a pity that there won’t be too many more debates on CNN. But the Republicans should press, now, for a commitment from CNN that at some future debate of Democratic candidates (if not this election cycle, then in 2012), the right to choose 25% of the questions asked of the candidates. CNN did it for the Democrats, so it’s only fair. And the Democrats should have no cause for complaint — it’s in the spirit of the “Fairness Doctrine,” which they are pushing so hard right now.
If they go for it, excellent. And it could set a rather interesting precedent — allow each party to have a brief effect on the other’s primary, under controlled, open, and aboveboard conditions. I think it’ll have a Darwinian effect on the candidates, forcing them to bypass the “run to the base for the primary, then to the middle for the election” model and express honest, sincere opinions and positions while it’s still early enough for the voters to have some real choices.
But they won’t. It’s a pipe dream, a fantasy. This will get swept under the rug, like so many of CNN’s sins and those of the rest of the mainstream media. The “new press” simply hasn’t developed enough where we can hang these millstones, these marks of shame, around the Old Media’s necks and make them stick.
That day will come, though. And anyone who doubts that just needs to look at the financial health of the New York Times. They’re not just losing money, they’re hemorrhaging it at a catastrophic rate. They’re in severe danger of “bleeding out,” and the people running things (Pinch Sulzberger, I’m looking at you) are so invested in the policies that opened up their veins that they have no clue how to staunch it.
And a lot of people who are watching the Times have taken Napoleon’s advice to heart: “Never interrupt your opponent when he is making a mistake.” Hell, some have even gone so far as to
take the James Carville aproach: “if your opponent is drowning, throw the sonofabitch an anchor.”