Is CNN capable and professional enough to host presidential debates? After last week's CNN-YouTube debate fiasco, even Tim Rutten, a media writer for the left-leaning Los Angeles Times, was giving CNN a big fat F for failure: "In fact, this most recent debacle masquerading as a presidential debate raises serious questions about whether CNN is ethically or professionally suitable" to host debates. CNN had the opportunity to perform a journalistic swan dive. Instead, it produced an enormous belly flop. It's far worse when you realize this mess of a production was the highest-rated primary presidential debate in history.
Back in May, after the Democrats stiff-armed the Fox News Channel invitation to debate,many conservatives believed the Republicans should return the favor with CNN and its proposed CNN-YouTube debate. I disagreed. I suggested in this space that Republicans should accept debates on CNN but be more forceful in setting the terms and selecting the hosts. It seemed correct to assume at the time that CNN would attempt to be more fair and balanced simply because so much was riding on the outcome, namely CNN's very credibility as an impartial observer of the political process.
I was wrong. We can't expect CNN to be an honest broker.
Anchor Anderson Cooper began the debate by telling the viewers at home "all the questions tonight come from you." An ombudsman should have interrupted at that point, with a clarification along the lines of a Hertz commercial: "There's CNN, and there's not exactly." CNN wanted viewers to think the whole process emerged from the bottom up. Instead, it was CNN discarding 99.5 percent of entries at the top and deciding what finally would air. And as the debate unfolded, viewers discovered the depths of CNN's dishonesty about their alleged questions from the vox populi.
Standing up in the audience after being flown in by the debate organizers, retired general Keith Kerr threw a hardball question at the Republican contenders about the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy toward gays in the military. He listed his military credentials and proclaimed he was gay and then said, "I want to know why you think that American men and women in uniform are not professional enough to serve with gays and lesbians." After several candidate answers, Kerr interrupted and began lecturing the Republicans on how insensitive they are to gays in the military, as if he'd been granted a 30-second attack ad by CNN.
Within minutes, conservative bloggers and media critics discovered through simple Googling that Kerr was a Hillary Clinton supporter -- and not just a supporter but a man whose name was listed as part of the Clinton campaign's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Steering Committee.