Debatable Tactics

Posted: Nov 30, 2007 10:31 AM
Debatable Tactics

By now you've read, seen and heard about the CNN/YouTube debate: The backgrounds of many of those whose questions were chosen were either not checked, were checked and ignored, or were selected because of their connection to one of the campaigns of DEMOCRATS running for President.

According to the NY Post:

Wednesday night's CNN/YouTube debate was barely over before the network was forced to make an embarrassing admission: One of its supposedly disinterested questioners, retired gay Army officer Keith Kerr, has an official position with the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Kerr, if you missed that portion of the program, not only got to ask his question about the Pentagon's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy regarding gays in a video, but then appeared in person to promote his position in a lecture to the REPUBLICAN candidates trapped on stage.

Columnist Michelle Malkin, also writing in the NY Post, provides a list other questioners who are openly supporters of Democratic campaigns - the man who was billed as a "Log Cabin Republican" also asking about gay issues, is openly a supporter of Obama.

You do understand that the NY Post is gleefully pointing these things out because it is owned by the News Corp. which also owns the Fox News Channel. That information doesn't change the truth of what is in the Post, but it does allow you to see its coverage through that filter and decide whether it is being driven by news value or competitive forces.

That is the reason that disclaimers are important: If I write about the Republican campaign for President, knowing that I am a paid advisor to the campaign of Fred Thompson doesn't necessarily affect the validity of my comments in MULLINGS, but it does give you necessary information which you need to weigh the value of what I say or write.

Knowing that the questioners were not uncommitted or undecided or unaffiliated didn't change the value of there questions, but we were left without that same kind of necessary information which would have allowed us to judge for ourselves whether the questions were valid.

In fact, I don't currently appear on CNN (or Fox for that matter) specifically because of my affiliation with the Thompson campaign. That would not change my discussions with James Carville, or Paul Begala, or Donna Brazile, but it might well cause confusion in the minds of viewers as to whether I was giving an honest appraisal of the state of the campaign, or if I were being a spinner for Thompson.

I have spent many hours in green rooms preparing to appear on CNN. I know many - probably most - of the political reporters and a number of the political news executives. I do not believe CNN intentionally engaged in a pattern of mis- or dis-information (except, perhaps, in the case of Gen. Kerr) but is probably guilty of nonfeasance for its lack of thoroughness in vetting the questioners.

The Conservative Blogatorium spent the entire day after the CNN debate gleefully pointing out how few clicks it took to discover the affiliations or inclinations of the YouTube questioners.

It was a little like an Internet version of "I've Got a Tune": I can identify the Democrat in three clicks.

This embarrassment on the part of CNN might have a salutary effect on the process. If the major campaigns put their collective feet down and demand that the networks provide a more dignified and thoughtful venue for these "debates" then we will all be better informed and the manner of selecting a President will be greatly improved.