CNN pledges no Dem "gotchas" in Republican YouTube debate -- so why did CNN allow partisan "gotchas" in Dem debate?

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

In a November 21 post to The New York Times' political blog, The Caucus, staff writer Ariel Alexovich purported to give a "sneak peek" at how questions for the November 28 CNN/YouTube Republican presidential candidates debate will be selected. Alexovich wrote that "CNN wants to ensure that ... Wednesday's Republican event is 'a debate of their party,' " and quoted debate executive producer and CNN Washington bureau chief David Bohrman saying, "There are quite a few things you might describe as Democratic 'gotchas,' and we are weeding those out." Alexovich further wrote that, according to Bohrman, questions that "involve asking the candidates to defend their opposition to gay marriage and abortion," which Bohrman called "lobbying grenades," "would be disqualified by the CNN selection team." Yet, CNN gave no indication that it similarly weeded out Republican "gotchas" for the CNN/YouTube Democratic debate; indeed, several questions asked during that debate could be described as Republican "gotchas," including one in which the questioner echoed the enduring Republican myth of Democrats as taxers and spenders: "I'd like to know, if the Democrats come into office, are my taxes going to rise like usually they do when a Democrat gets into office?" CNN also aired two separate questions on same-sex marriage.

In a July 14 article, the Associated Press reported that when asked about "guidelines on what kind of questions were most likely to make it on the air," Bohrman said that he would eliminate questions that were "obscene or inappropriate." In contrast to the statements Bohrman made to The Caucus regarding the Republican debate, there is no indication in the AP story that CNN intended to make the July 23 Democratic debate a "debate of their party," or that CNN was attempting to "weed ... out" the "Republican 'gotchas.' " From the AP article:

Anyone who wants to submit a question may do so by uploading a video clip through YouTube. All the videos that are submitted will be posted on the site. CNN will then choose as many as 50 videos to use during the debate.

Asked for guidelines on what kind of questions were most likely to make it on the air, Bohrman said they should be concise -- no more than 30 seconds -- provocative, and creative.

"We're not going to have anything obscene or inappropriate, but I think we'll get some very inventive questions," he said.

Moreover, during his introduction to the July 23 debate, CNN host and debate moderator Anderson Cooper said that "[i]t was pretty easy ... to eliminate some of the questions" submitted, and then aired a video montage of "some of the videos and the questions you're not going to see tonight, and why." Cooper said some questions were eliminated if the questioner "[d]ress[ed] up in costume," or if the questioner "seemed to use their kids to ask adult questions." Cooper also said that "[j]ust because a video was popular online" did not indicate that it would be asked during the debate, and that while "one campaign made an excellent effort to try to get a particular question into tonight's debate," such an attempt to "stuff the ballot box, so to speak," would not result in the question being aired. However, Cooper gave no indication that CNN removed from consideration any questions that may have been submitted by Republicans.

Media Matters for America compiled the following list of possible Republican "gotchas" asked of candidates during the July 23 CNN/YouTube Democratic presidential debate:

  • I'd like to know, if the Democrats come into office, are my taxes going to rise like usually they do when a Democrat gets into office?
  • To all the candidates: Tell me your position on gun control, as myself and other Americans really want to know if our babies are safe. This is my baby, purchased under the 1994 gun ban.
  • My question for all the candidates: How do we pull out now? And the follow-up: Are we watching the same blankin' war? I certainly wasn't a big fan of the invasion/liberation. It sickens me to hear about soldiers wounded and getting killed daily, not to mention innocent Iraqis, but how do we pull out now? Government's shaky; bombs daily.

    Don't you think if we pulled out now that it would open it up for Iran and Syria, God knows who -- Russia -- how do we pull out now? And isn't it our responsibility to get these people up on their feet? I mean, do you leave a newborn baby to take care of himself? How do we pull out now?

  • My question is for Mike Gravel. In one of the previous debates, you said something along the lines of, "The entire deaths of Vietnam died in vain."

    How do you expect to win in a country where probably a pretty large chunk of the people voting disagree with that statement and might very well be offended by it? I'd like to know if you plan to defend that statement, or if you're just going to flip-flop. Thanks.

  • I'm a proud serving member of the United States military. I'm serving overseas.

    This question is to Senator Hillary Clinton. The Arab states, Muslim nations, believe its women as being second-class citizens. If you're president of the United States, how do you feel that you would be even be taken seriously by these states in any kind of talks, negotiations, or any other diplomatic relations? I feel that's a legitimate question.

Further, during the July 23 debate, Democratic candidates were twice asked about their position on same-sex marriage:

  • Hi, my name's Mary; and my name is Jen -- and we're from Brooklyn, New York. If you were elected president of the United States, would you allow us to be married to each other?
  • I'm Reverend Reggie Longcrier. I'm the pastor of Exodus Mission and Outreach Church in Hickory, North Carolina. Senator Edwards said his opposition to gay marriage is influenced by his Southern Baptist background. Most Americans agree it was wrong and unconstitutional to use religion to justify slavery, segregation, and denying women the right to vote. So, why is it still acceptable to use religion to deny gay Americans their full and equal rights?

From CNN's July 23 broadcast of the CNN/YouTube Democratic presidential debate:

COOPER: Good evening, and welcome, and thank you very much, Chris, for that introduction.

We are coming to you tonight from the Citadel, the military college of South Carolina. This is the CNN/YouTube debate. This is the first debate of the presidential election season sponsored by the Democratic National Committee -- sanctioned, I should say, by the Democratic National Committee.

Tonight is really something of an experiment. This is something we've never done before. What you're about to see is, well, it's untried. We're not exactly sure how it's going to work. The candidates on this stage don't know how it's going to work, neither do their campaigns, and frankly, we think that's actually a good thing.

We received about 3,000 videos from YouTube viewers all around the country. And reading off what Chris said from Portland, the challenge tonight is to make sure that all the candidates actually answer the questions that were asked to them.

As I said, we got about 3,000 videos from all around the country, and, frankly, all around the world. A lot of them were incredibly smart, very thoughtful, very heartfelt, and it was a real tough decision trying to decide which questions would actually go to the candidates tonight.

It was pretty easy, though, to eliminate some of the questions. And since we're -- yeah, as you can imagine -- since we're doing this again September 17th with the Republican candidates, we thought we'd show you some of the videos and the questions you're not going to see tonight, and why. Let's watch.

[begin video clip]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1: Greetings. I am Bjorn Swenson.

COOPER: Dressing up in costume was probably not the best way to get taken seriously. Nothing against costumes, mind you, it's just kind of distracting. And yes, I'm talking about you, Chicken Lady.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1: God bless America.

COOPER: We saw a lot of kids making videos, and that was really great. This boy is from South Carolina. We loved his enthusiasm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: Most scientists say that when I'm about your age, half the species on Earth will go extinct.

COOPER: But we also noticed a lot of people seemed to use their kids to ask adult questions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 2: Will Social Security be there for my generation?

COOPER: Does a 5-year-old really care about Social Security?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 2: How are you going to fix it?

COOPER: Just because a video was popular online doesn't mean you'll see it tonight. The most viewed video question on YouTube was this one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 3: What are your thoughts on a recent poll suggesting that 88 percent of Californians elected Governor Schwarzenegger in hopes that a cyborg of his nature could stop a future nuclear war?

[end video clip]

COOPER: Yeah. So, we all know that Arnold Schwarzenegger is a cyborg, so there's no time -- no need to waste time actually asking the candidates that question.

We also eliminated, we think, any attempt to stuff the ballot box, so to speak. We noticed that one campaign made an excellent effort to try to get a particular question into tonight's debate. Listen.

[begin video clip]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1: So here's what we'd like you to do: We'd like you, all of you, to ask the same "then what" question to the candidates.

CROWD: Every Democrat wants to get our troops out of Iraq as soon as possible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1: However, none of you, except for Joe Biden, seem to have a plan [inaudible] --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1: If all of you record the same question --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 2: My question --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: My question --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 3: My question --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 3: My question to the candidates is --

CROWD: Then what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1: Then CNN and YouTube won't be able to ignore that question.

[end video clip]

COOPER: So, now, we're not going to reveal which campaign wanted to ask that question, Senator Biden.

[...]

QUESTION: My name is Marcus Benson from Minneapolis, and I'd like to know, if the Democrats come into office, are my taxes going to rise like usually they do when a Democrat gets into office?

[...]

QUESTION: Good evening, America. My name is Jered Townsend from Clio, Michigan. To all the candidates: Tell me your position on gun control, as myself and other Americans really want to know if our babies are safe. This is my baby, purchased under the 1994 gun ban. Please tell me your views. Thank you.

[...]

QUESTION: Mitch from Philadelphia. My question for all the candidates: How do we pull out now? And the follow-up: Are we watching the same blankin' war? I certainly wasn't a big fan of the invasion/liberation. It sickens me to hear about soldiers wounded and getting killed daily, not to mention innocent Iraqis, but how do we pull out now? Government's shaky; bombs daily.

Don't you think if we pulled out now that it would open it up for Iran and Syria, God knows who -- Russia -- how do we pull out now? And isn't it our responsibility to get these people up on their feet? I mean, do you leave a newborn baby to take care of himself? How do we pull out now?

[...]

QUESTION: My name is John. I'm from West Virginia.

My question is for Mike Gravel. In one of the previous debates, you said something along the lines of, "The entire deaths of Vietnam died in vain."

How do you expect to win in a country where probably a pretty large chunk of the people voting disagree with that statement and might very well be offended by it? I'd like to know if you plan to defend that statement, or if you're just going to flip-flop. Thanks.

[...]

QUESTION: Hello, my name is John McAlperin. I'm a proud serving member of the United States military. I'm serving overseas.

This question is to Senator Hillary Clinton. The Arab states, Muslim nations, believe its women as being second-class citizens. If you're president of the United States, how do you feel that you would be even be taken seriously by these states in any kind of talks, negotiations, or any other diplomatic relations? I feel that's a legitimate question.

[...]

QUESTION: Hi, my name's Mary; and my name is Jen -- and we're from Brooklyn, New York. If you were elected president of the United States, would you allow us to be married to each other?

[...]

QUESTION: I'm Reverend Reggie Longcrier. I'm the pastor of Exodus Mission and Outreach Church in Hickory, North Carolina. Senator Edwards said his opposition to gay marriage is influenced by his Southern Baptist background. Most Americans agree it was wrong and unconstitutional to use religion to justify slavery, segregation, and denying women the right to vote. So, why is it still acceptable to use religion to deny gay Americans their full and equal rights?

Network/Outlet
CNN
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Propaganda/Noise Machine, 2008 Elections
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