Have GOP bloggers stopped whining yet?

››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Republican bloggers need to grow up and stop their schoolyard whimpering.

Republican bloggers need to grow up and stop their schoolyard whimpering.

The incessant whining last week over the non-story about how some Democrats were allowed to ask Republican candidates legitimate questions during the CNN/YouTube debate was as revealing as it was embarrassing. When did Republican bloggers conclude that their candidates were so brittle and fragile that they had to be protected from unnecessary exposure to everyday citizens?

Naturally, the bloggers' hatred of the press meant that the first cries of foul after the debate alleged that the "out of control" campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) had been in cahoots with CNN and that the debate questions sprang from a vast liberal media conspiracy. (The charge, of course, was baseless.)

It's all part of the bloggers' attempt to create a parallel universe of sorts, where their own facts don't have to collide with harsh reality. It's a world where inquisitive Democrats who submit video questions to candidates are denounced as "plants," part of an elaborate media scheme to derail Republicans. How, you ask? By posing legitimate, factual questions about the pressing issues of the day. That's what produced last week's shrieking, the-sky-is-falling hysteria across the right-wing blogosphere, with some even making childish demands of "A Do Over" and frantically waving petitions around, insisting that CNN executives be fired for their unpardonable sin.

These GOP bloggers are so afraid of democracy that they spend their days and nights blaming the press for allowing it to take place.

In fact, following the earlier Democratic debate hosted by CNN last month in Las Vegas, right-wing bloggers crowed about the "scandal" they had uncovered: CNN allowed Democrats in the audience to ask questions to Democratic candidates. More on that later.

But where did this far-right fantasy spring from that only registered Republicans are allowed to ask Republicans questions at nationally televised debates? And that it's the media's fault if that precious bubble is penetrated?

Sadly, some of the GOP candidates signed off on the parallel universe approach. In reference to the debate question posed by Retired Brig. Gen. Keith Kerr, who lent his name to the Clinton campaign and became one of nearly 50 co-chairs of Veterans and Military Retirees for Hillary, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) after the debate said, "I think that should have been made public if this individual was a member of another -- any other campaign, then people would, obviously, have a better way of judging the quality of the question."

Here was Kerr's question: "I want to know why you think that American men and women in uniform are not professional enough to serve with gays and lesbians."

Would McCain have dubbed the quality of that question to be inferior if he'd known Kerr had lent his support to a Democratic campaign?

Then again, this debate season has been punctuated by the refusal of most Republican candidates to debate in front of black or Latino audiences, presumably because it would include too many non-Republicans; too many people who might be hostile to what the candidates say. And sure enough, on the eve of the CNN/YouTube debate, anxious online conservatives demanded to know how CNN executives would protect Republican candidates from having to answer questions from non-Republicans.

And no, this is not just like the Democrats' decision to boycott Fox News debates earlier this year. That was never about the questions being asked, or the candidates being afraid of the Fox News crew. It was, in my mind, a brilliant, blogger-led initiative to de-brand Fox News, to publicly declare that the organization itself is not an independent news forum. Just as Democrats would never sanction the National Review or Rush Limbaugh to host one of their debates, there's no reason to let Fox News do the same.

Of course, if Republicans want to boycott CNN or MSNBC by claiming that neither are legitimate news organizations, they're free do to so. I think it's telling that none of the candidates have tried to make that fanciful claim.

The truth is that Democratic candidates have faced hundreds of debate questions to date and haven't waged media campaigns protesting the fact that not all the people who asked the questions were not knee-jerk supporters. (Progressives have, however, complained when some of the questions were factually inaccurate.)

Frankly, I'd be embarrassed if Democratic candidates for the highest office in the land, or their staunch online supporters, ran around complaining that questions asked at a CNN debate were unfair based solely on the fact that the person posing them were not registered Democrats.

In fact, as the Los Angeles Times reported last week, one of the questioners at the Democratic YouTube debate was an obvious Rudy Giuliani supporter. And it didn't take an Einstein to figure that out; it was postered on the questioner's MySpace page. Also, the query he posed to Clinton -- "How do you think you would be taken seriously" by Arab and Muslim nations that treat women as "second-class citizens"? -- made his political allegiance clear. But guess what? She simply answered the question and not a single supporter cried foul. Because that's how a democracy works.

It was CNN itself that created a point of contention over the questions asked at the Democratic debate, by announcing prior to the GOP forum that it was going to weed out any Democratic gotcha-style questions prior to the Republicans' YouTube debate, despite its failure to extend the same courtesy to Democrats during their YouTube debate.

But note that prior to realizing that several of the questioners at the CNN/YouTube debate had Democratic leanings, right-wing bloggers praised the event. At the Media Research Center's (MRC) NewsBusters site, Brad Wilmouth, immediately following the event, wrote approvingly that it "largely lived up to its promise to be a debate fitting for Republican voters as the vast majority of the questions used were asked from a conservative point of view." [Emphasis added.]

And as blogger Steven Benen noted, Malkin herself conceded on Wednesday that "the questions were almost all coherent and well-framed." Meaning, nobody in real time was suggesting the questions themselves were out of bounds.

To put the right-wing bloggers' media paranoia into perspective you have to go back to the previous Democratic debate, when conservatives online -- in a preview of last week's YouTube nonsense -- whipped themselves into a post-debate frenzy, claiming CNN had allowed Democrats in the audience of the Las Vegas debate to ask the Democratic candidates questions. I kid you not, and that deserves repeating: Following the debate, the MRC's NewsBusters site announced it had had uncovered a vast, liberal media conspiracy in which CNN allowed Democrats in the audience to ask questions at a Democratic debate.

The NewsBusters crew and their friends online raised the red flag because during the debate CNN's host claimed the questions from the Las Vegas audience would be asked by "undecided voters." But after much digging, the online sleuths discovered one questioner had once served as an intern for a Democratic senator, another was in a labor union, and a third was a "prominent Muslim leader."

Bloggers had no idea if the questioners were actually undecided voters or not. But because they were Democrats, or in a union, or Muslim, that meant they never should have been allowed to interact with Democratic candidates at a televised debate because they were "plants." Meaning, they were alleged Democratic voters who infiltrated the audience at a Democratic debate.

After much digging, one conservative blogger announced:

It can be said with certainty that at least the three people I mentioned here were NOT ordinary "undecided democratic voters", but rather people who were prepared and planted into the audience to ask these specific questions.

Disclaimer: I am not making this stuff up. The conservative blogosphere was up in arms because some audience members had shown up at the Las Vegas debate "prepared" to ask "specific questions."

Quickly falling into their media conspiracy mode, bloggers demanded to know how the plot had been coordinated and how many candidates knew in advance of the stealthy plan to have Democrats ask questions at a Democratic debate! (My guess? All of them knew.)

The bloggers' next step was depressingly predictable; attack the citizens who asked the questions at the Las Vegas debate:

So I popped her name into my Yahoo search engine to discover that Luisa is her middle name her full name is Maria Luisa Parra-Sandoval, and she worked in Harry Reid's office in Nevada and DC. (Picture on page 23) She was also invited as a guest on the floor off the 74th session of Nevada Legislature, by a man named Rubin Kihuen, he was elected in 2006 and a member of the Nevada Assembly Democrats. Upon further research and a tip from a commenter on another message board, it turns out that she came here illegally from Mexico as a child with her family, but since gained legal status, and has won scholarships to attend UNLV.

If that doesn't creep you out, I don't know what will. A college student asked a question at a CNN presidential debate, and furious right-wing bloggers, hunting for proof of a liberal media bias, commenced with a cyber deep-dive and quickly posted unflattering information about the student's family.

I'll say it again: GOP bloggers are so afraid of democracy that they spend their days and nights blaming the press for allowing it to take place.

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