MSNBC and CNN ignored "boldest question" from student at prep school but reported extensively on students' question to Chelsea Clinton

››› ››› ANDREW IRONSIDE & MATTHEW BIEDLINGMAIER

MSNBC and CNN reported on Sen. John McCain's visit to his high school alma mater without noting that -- in what MSNBC's First Read political blog called "[t]he boldest question" from the crowd -- a student at the school, pointing out that "political motivation isn't completely absent" even though people "were told that this isn't a political event," asked McCain "what exactly is your purpose in being" at the school. By contrast, MSNBC and CNN both extensively reported on questions posed to Chelsea Clinton about the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Reporting on Sen. John McCain's April 1 speech at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia, his alma mater, neither Andrea Mitchell nor Chris Jansing -- both MSNBC anchors -- noted what a post of MSNBC's First Read political blog called "[t]he boldest question" from the crowd. The First Read item, which was posted by Mark Murray and stated that it was "[f]rom NBC/N[ational] J[ournal]'s Adam Aigner-Treworgy," reported that a student named Katelyn Halldorson asked McCain: "I think judging by the amount of press representatives here and also by the integration of your previous political endorsements in your earlier personal narrative, we can see that this isn't completely absent -- er political motivation isn't completely absent. Yet we were told that this isn't a political event. So what exactly is your purpose in being here


not that I don't appreciate the opportunity, but I'd just like some clarification." In fact, as of 9 a.m. ET on April 2, CNN and MSNBC had not noted Halldorson's question (excluding news briefs, which were not available on Nexis or CNN's transcript page and were not searched), despite giving significant coverage to students' questions to Chelsea Clinton about the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

According to Murray, McCain responded: " 'I knew I should have cut this thing off. This meeting is over,' McCain joked, before going into a long description of his biography tour and it's emphasis on 'the values and principles that guided me and I think a lot of this country in the past,' in addition to providing 'a vision of how I think we need to address the challenges of the future.' "

In contrast with Mitchell's and Jansing's failure to report the "bold question" asked of McCain -- giving rise to what Time.com Washington editor Ana Marie Cox referred to as McCain's "awkward moment" -- CNN and MSNBC anchors extensively covered and discussed the questions about Monica Lewinsky posed to Chelsea Clinton during a March 25 campaign event at Butler University and a March 31 speech at North Carolina State University. For example, during the April 1 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN's Jack Cafferty reported:

CAFFERTY: For the second time in two weeks, Chelsea Clinton has been asked a question about the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Campaigning for her mother at North Carolina State University yesterday, a student brought up the scandal that led to the impeachment of her father, Bill Clinton.

The student said Chelsea should have answered the question because it happened while her father was president of the United States. But the former first daughter was having none of it, saying, quote, "It's none of your business. This is something that is very personal to my family. I'm sure there are things personal to your family that you don't think are anyone else's business, either," unquote.

Chelsea also said that she doesn't think people "should vote for or against my mother because of my father." The student yesterday defended asking Chelsea the question, saying, "I feel it is our business because he was president at the time."

In addition to Cafferty's statements during the 4 p.m. ET hour of The Situation Room, CNN reported on the questions posed to Chelsea Clinton during the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. ET hours of The Situation Room as well as twice during the April 1 edition of American Morning. CNN also reported on the March 25 question posed to Chelsea Clinton on the March 25 editions of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, Election Center, Larry King Live, and the 5 p.m. ET hour of The Situation Room as well as the March 26 editions of CNN's American Morning (6 a.m., 7 a.m., and 8 a.m. ET hours), the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. ET hours of CNN Newsroom, and all three hours of The Situation Room. By contrast, CNN had not reported the question posed to McCain by the high school student as of 9 a.m. ET on April 2 (excluding news briefs, which were not searched) despite reports of his visit to his old high school on both the April 2 edition of American Morning and the April 1 edition of The Situation Room.

Likewise, while it reported extensively on questions posed to Chelsea, as of 9 a.m. ET on April 2, MSNBC had not reported on the question to McCain (excluding news briefs, which were not searched). For example, during the March 26 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews reported: "An exchange on the trail yesterday may have bummed that minor episode. It happened when a student at Ball State University in Indiana -- his name is Evan Strange -- asked Chelsea about her mother's handling of the Monica Lewinsky scandal back when her husband, Bill, was impeached, what you might say was quite an historic part of the Clinton presidency." Additionally, Dan Abrams had Strange on the March 27 edition of his MSNBC program Verdict to discuss the question he asked Chelsea Clinton. But neither Hardball nor Verdict has reported on the question to McCain despite the fact that both shows mentioned McCain's trip to the high school.

Further, as Media Matters for America has noted, MSNBC has devoted several segments to Sen. Barack Obama's bowling performance at a March 29 campaign stop at Pleasant Valley Lanes in Altoona, Pennsylvania, during Hardball and Morning Joe, but neither program has covered the question the student asked of McCain.

From an April 1 entry on MSNBC's First Read blog:

The boldest question came from junior Katelyn Halldorson who asked what exactly the senator was doing at her school: "I think judging by the amount of press representatives here and also by the integration of your previous political endorsements in your earlier personal narrative, we can see that this isn't completely absent -- er political motivation isn't completely absent. Yet we were told that this isn't a political event. So what exactly is your purpose in being here -- not that I don't appreciate the opportunity, but I'd just like some clarification."

"I knew I should have cut this thing off. This meeting is over," McCain joked, before going into a long description of his biography tour and it's emphasis on "the values and principles that guided me and I think a lot of this country in the past," in addition to providing "a vision of how I think we need to address the challenges of the future."

McCain concluded the visit to his alma mater by saying, "I hope that attendance here was not compulsory... I apologize if you were unwillingly in attendance here."

According to one EHS staff member, attendance was compulsory, although it was unclear what the punishment would have been if a student had refused to attend.

From the April 1 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

CAFFERTY: For the second time in two weeks, Chelsea Clinton has been asked a question about the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Campaigning for her mother at North Carolina State University yesterday, a student brought up the scandal that led to the impeachment of her father, Bill Clinton.

The student said Chelsea should have answered the question because it happened while her father was president of the United States. But the former first daughter was having none of it, saying, quote, "It's none of your business. This is something that is very personal to my family. I'm sure there are things personal to your family that you don't think are anyone else's business, either," unquote.

Chelsea also said that she doesn't think people "should vote for or against my mother because of my father." The student yesterday defended asking Chelsea the question, saying, "I feel it is our business because he was president at the time."

Yesterday's encounter followed a similar one at Butler University last week, when a student asked the former first daughter whether the Lewinsky scandal had hurt her mother's reputation. And again, Chelsea responded with, "I don't think that's any of your business."

While campaigning for her mother, Chelsea has refused to answer questions from the press, as well.

So here's the question: Chelsea Clinton says the Lewinsky scandal is none of the public's business. Is she right? Go to cnn.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.

You know, there's a better answer for her. And she's probably going to keep getting this, John, as she keeps traveling around to college campuses. She could say, you know what? I don't want to talk about it, instead of "it's none of your business," which is a little confrontational. She just simply said, that's not something I'm here to talk about. Case dismissed.

JOHN KING (guest host): Hey, it's a great question. It's a fascinating dilemma to watch her. She has every right to draw the line where she wants to put it. And students, of course, it's a public campaign, and she's out there campaigning for her mother. They have every right to ask the question. So we look forward to the answers.

From the 1 p.m. ET hour of the April 1 edition of MSNBC Live:

MITCHELL: Thanks, Monica. Senator John McCain is not just practicing revisionist history. He is actually telling the truth as he describes his boarding school years. He's on day two of his tour across the country detailing his personal history. And apparently that involved a bad temper, a chip on his shoulder, and being labeled the worst freshman. Senator McCain did describe his fondest memories of one former teacher.

McCAIN [video clip]: I have never forgotten the confidence that Mr. Rabnel's praise and trust in me gave me, nor have I forgotten the man who praised me many years later when I came home from Vietnam. Mr. Rabnel was the only person outside of my family who I wanted to see urgently. I felt he was someone to whom I could explain what had happened to me and who would understand.

MITCHELL: NBC's Kelly O'Donnell covers the McCain campaign and is here with us now. Kelly, welcome back from the road.

O'DONNELL: It's so nice that his event today was right in the neighborhood.

MITCHELL: How about that, the fact that he actually went to Episcopal here in surburban Washington, so that brought him home. But he is trying to reintroduce himself to people, and he has to figure out a way to get some attention, first of all --

O'DONNELL: Exactly.

MITCHELL: -- and, you know, calibrate this campaign. One of the things that he's trying to deal with is this Obama charge that it's a 100-year war in Iraq, you know, the --

O'DONNELL: This has dogged him for months now, Andrea, as you know.

From the 2 p.m. ET hour of the April 1 edition of MSNBC Live:

JANSING: To politics now and Sen. John McCain, who would be the first to tell you he was no saint when he was in boarding school. Today, he returned to his alma mater and described how he was labeled the worst freshman of the year. He's on day two of his tour across the country detailing his personal history and, of course, trying to grab headlines away from the Democrats.

[...]

JANSING: Senator John McCain hardly practicing revisionist history as he describes his rambunctious days in boarding school. Today, he stopped by his alma mater as part of his personal history tour, candidly describing how he was voted the worst freshman of his year. He also told students he never expected he'd ever run for president.

NBC's Kelly O'Donnell is covering the McCain campaign, joining us now from Washington, D.C. Kelly, it's good to see you. We just saw you here and in California, so you've remained very flight bound. What do we know about maybe Senator McCain that we didn't know before from this personal history tour?

O'DONNELL: Well, as you get an idea from the intro there, he is trying to set up some of his detractors, perhaps, by getting out the bad news first. That's one of the laws of politics: if something is a little less flattering, you be the one to tell it. Well, this is a very mild case of that kind of a theory.

He was at his high school today, took real pride in telling students that he had been rambunctious, that he had come to that school -- it's a boarding school in the Alexandria, Virginia, area, so we're talking about suburban Washington, D.C. -- and he had a chip on his shoulder, in part because he was, as you know, a son of a Navy admiral, and so he had moved around a great deal and had sort of a turbulent school life as a young man. So Mom and Dad said, "We're going to put you in a boarding school." So he arrived with that kind of a spirit.

And he wanted to, I think, reflect to these students that you can continue to improve over time and in some ways, by looking back at those high school years, it's a reflection of the person he is in public life today. You know, he's got a bit of a temper -- certainly a reputation for that -- known for being someone who will take on his opponents, and I think he was trying to draw that thread from the good old days at Episcopal High School to the candidate he is today.

Network/Outlet
MSNBC, CNN
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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