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A reminder about the last plant-infested, CNN-run town hall debate

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By Michelle Malkin  •  October 15, 2012 12:38 PM

CNN’s Candy Crowley will be moderating tomorrow night’s second presidential debate. It will be a 90-minute town hall forum at Hofstra University on Long Island, east of New York City. Both the Obama and Romney campaigns signed a “memorandum of understanding” about how the debate will be run. But Crowley is already making noises that she plans to circumvent the agreed-upon rules and take control:

In a rare example of political unity, both the Romney and Obama campaigns have expressed concern to the Commission on Presidential Debates about how the moderator of this Tuesday’s town hall has publicly described her role, TIME has learned.

While an early-October memorandum of understanding between the Obama and Romney campaigns suggests that CNN’s Candy Crowley would play a limited role in the Tuesday-night session, Crowley, who is not a party to that agreement, has done a series of interviews on her network in which she has suggested that she will assume a broader set of responsibilities. As Crowley put it last week, “Once the table is kind of set by the town-hall questioner, there is then time for me to say, ‘Hey, wait a second, what about X, Y, Z?’”

Do you remember what happened the last time CNN was in charge of a high-stakes “town hall” style campaign debate?

I do. Flashback: CNN/YouTube/plant debacle.

Refresher:

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Concerned Young Undecided Person “Journey” = John Edwards supporter “Journey”

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Concerned Undecided Log Cabin Republican supporter David Cercone = Obama supporter David Cercone

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Concerned Undecided Mom LeeAnn Anderson = Activist for the John Edwards-endorsing United Steelworkers union LeeAnn Anderson

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Concerned Undecided Gay Military Retiree Brig. Gen. Keith H. Kerr = Hillary/Kerry supporter and anti-”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” activist Keith H. Kerr

11/30/07

CNN’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy

If any more political plants turn up at CNN’s presidential debates, the cable-news network will have to merge with the Home and Garden channel.

At CNN’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas two weeks back, moderator Wolf Blitzer introduced several citizen questioners as “ordinary people, undecided voters.” But they later turned out to include a former Arkansas Democratic director of political affairs, the president of the Islamic Society of Nevada and a far left anti-war activist who’d been quoted in newspapers lambasting Harry Reid for his failure to pull out of Iraq.

Yet CNN failed to disclose those affiliations and activism during the broadcast.

Behold – the phony political foliage bloomed again at Wednesday night’s much hyped CNN/YouTube GOP debate.

Oh, CNN did make careful note that Grover Norquist (who asked about his anti-tax pledge) is a Republican activist with Americans for Tax Reform. But somehow the network’s layers and layers of fact-checkers missed several easily identified Democratic activists posing as ordinary, undecided citizens.

The tallest plant was a retired gay vet, one “Brig. Gen. Keith Kerr,” who questioned – or rather, lectured – the candidates on video and in person about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that bans open gays from the military.

Funny. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was exactly the policy CNN adopted in not telling viewers that Kerr is a member of Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual- Transgender Americans for Hillary.

Sen. Clinton’s campaign Web site features a press release announcing Kerr and other members of the committee in June. And a basic Web search turns up Kerr’s past support as a member of a veterans’ steering committee for the John Kerry for President campaign – and his prior appearance on CNN in December ’03.

CNN’s moderator, Anderson Cooper, singled out Kerr (who’d been flown in for the event) in the vast audience, giving him a chance for his own filibustering moment. Marvel at it: Not one CNN journalist uncovered the connection or thought it pertinent to disclose that Kerr’s heart belonged to Hillary.

When righty commentator Bill Bennett pointed out the facts to Cooper after the debate, a red-faced Cooper feebly blubbered: “That was something certainly unknown to us, and had we known that, would have been disclosed by us. It turns out we have just looked at it.”

Cluelessness doesn’t absolve CNN of journalistic malpractice. Neither does editing out Kerr’s question (as the network did on rebroadcast, to camouflage the potted plant).

The story is far from over: Cooper and CNN still owe their audience – and the GOP candidates – a bouquet of mea culpas for due diligence and disclosure lapses. Beyond Kerr, Internet sleuths have uncovered several other Democratic activists lurking in the YouTube garden:

* A young woman named “Journey” questioned the candidates on abortion. On her blog (easily accessed from her YouTube channel), she declares herself a John Edwards supporter. Post debate, she immediately posted a video wearing . . . her John Edwards ’08 T-shirt.

* David Cercone of Florida asked a question seemingly on behalf of the Log Cabin Republicans. He had declared his support for Obama on an Obama ’08 campaign blog back in July.

* Concerned mother LeeAnn Anderson asked about lead in toys with her two children in her lap. She is actually a staffer and prominent Pittsburgh union activist for the United Steelworkers – which has endorsed Edwards.

On other questioners, elementary Google searches show that:

* Ted Faturos, who asked about ethanol subsidies, had served as an intern for Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.).

* Adam Florzak, who asked about Social Security, quit his job as a welder and is working with Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) staff on the issue.

* Mark Strauss, who urged Ron Paul to run as an independent, had publicly supported Gov. Bill Richardson in July.

Alternative media platforms – talk radio, the Internet and this op-ed page – have spread these facts like kudzu. But the persistent media double standard is obvious to everyone but the manure spreaders at CNN: Had GOP candidates somehow been able to insert their operatives and supporters into a Democratic debate, and had, say, Fox News failed to vet the questioners and presented them as average citizens, both Fox and the GOP would be treated as the century’s worst media sinners.

Whether through, as one blogger put, “constructive incompetence” or “convenient ineptitude,” CNN has committed journalistic malpractice under the guise of “citizen” participation.

In a now richly ironic interview with Wired.- com before the debate, David Bohrman, a CNN senior vice president, explained why videos were picked not by popular vote, but by supposedly seasoned CNN journalists: The Web is still too immature a medium to set an agenda for a national debate, he claimed. “It’s really easy for the campaigns to game the system.” “You’ve seen how effective the Ron Paul campaign [supporters] have been on the Web,” he noted. “You don’t know if there are 40 or 4 million of them. It would be easy for a really organized campaign to stack the deck.”

What does Bohrman have to say about his crack staff now?

***

Related background:

Liveblogging the CNN/YouTube debate: “Edginess,” “elbows, “eh.” Update: Romney’s the Energizer candidate; Update: PLANT ALERT; The biggest stumble of the night award goes to…CNN; Update: The plants keep sprouting like weeds

Digging out more CNN/YouTube plants: Abortion questioner is declared Edwards supporter (and a slobbering Anderson Cooper fan); Log Cabin Republican questioner is declared Obama supporter; lead toy questioner is a prominent union activist for the Edwards-endorsing United Steelworkers

CNN apologists accuse critics of “stalking”

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