Friday, November 16, 2007

Reflections on the Debate (Las Vegas)- No. 7

When a minor uproar ensued after news that a staffer to Senator Clinton had planted a question with a Grinell College student during a recent campaign stop in central Iowa, I thought the story was overdone, completely inconsequential. And when John Edwards website turned up with a "'Plants for Hillary' Takes Roots Today" item, I thought it was over the top.

I was wrong. At the Democratic Presidential debate on November 15, in response to a question about candidates changing their minds on issues, Edwards said in part:

That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying there's a difference between that and saying exact -- saying two contrary things at exactly the same time. I mean, for example, just over the course of the last week, Senator Clinton said in Washington that she would vote for the Peru trade deal -- (boos) -- and she said in Iowa, talking to union members, that she wanted a moratorium on trade deals.

Boos over a trade deal with Peru. (And laughter at Obama during his response to a question about drivers licenses for illegal immigrants.) Not exactly predictable. But predictable if Clinton partisans at the debate were coached on how to react to the various candidates depending upon their statements. As of this writing, no one knows for sure whether there was mere coaching, or if the debate was somehow rigged. Clearly, the media need to ask questions about what occurred at this debate-no, spectacle- to determine how the campaign prepared and whether CNN was aware of the plans.

A debate should be among candidates. The audience should not be participants. If the brass at CNN was unaware of the possibility their event would be hijacked, it became painfully obvious at the outset. The failure of moderator Wolf Blitzer to enjoin audience participation was appalling and a professional blight upon the reputation of the network.

Repub partisans frequently referred to CNN during the administration of Clinton 42 as the "Clinton News Network." CNN was not, is not, and will not, be as much in the pocket of a political party as one of the other cable networks, but its failure to control the debate served the interests of one particular candidate.

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