On Wednesday, Jake Tapper hosted a CNN town hall special episode with survivors and relatives of the victims of the Florida school shooting titled “Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action.” As one might suspect, this was not exactly a fair and balanced forum for debating gun control. Pro-gun control student activists, teachers, and parents of murdered students dominated the discussion and posed most of the questions to the town hall’s five guest speakers.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio and NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch were among those five who went up on stage to answer questions, but they did not get a warm reception from the audience, to say the least. In fact, crowd members actively heckled and jeered at Rubio and Loesch any time they refrained from immediately and unequivocally backing every demand of the questioners for increased gun control.
According to one of the survivors of the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High, this hostile reception has an explanation. Colton Haab, a Junior ROTC student at the school who helped fellow classmates get to safety as the shooting began, has alleged that CNN nixed his proposed town hall questions and tried to get him to ask a scripted question instead. From Real Clear Politics:
"I expected to be able to ask my questions and give my opinion on my questions," Haab said.
"Colton Haab, a member of the Junior ROTC who shielded classmates in the midst of terror says he did not get to share his experience," WPLG's Janine Stanwood explained.
"Colton wrote questions about school safety, suggested using veterans as armed school security guards but claims CNN wanted him to ask a scripted question instead so he decided not to go," Stanwood reported.
"CNN had originally asked me to write a speech and questions and it ended up being all scripted," Haab said. "I don't think that it's going get anything accomplished. It's not gonna ask the true questions that all the parents and teachers and students have."
On Thursday morning, CNN responded to Haab by flatly denying that the network ever scripts questions at their events, in effect calling the Junior ROTC student a liar. In addition, according to Real Clear Politics, a CNN insider said that the network nixed Haab’s question because he “wanted to give an extensive speech and not just ask a question, something the network said the forum was not designed for.”
For anyone who actually saw the town hall episode (which you can watch or listen to in full here), this latter claim is particularly strange, as many of the CNN-approved questioners at the event did make short speeches expressing their opinions, especially when addressing Sen. Rubio or Loesch. In one of the more notable examples of this, student activist Cameron Kasky used his question time to morally equate Rubio to the mass shooter, suggest that the senator was a puppet of the NRA accepting bribes in return for inaction on gun control, and insinuate that Loesch doesn’t care about her children being murdered [all following transcripts from CNN, emphasis mine]:
KASKY: Senator Rubio, it's hard to look at you and not look down a barrel of an AR-15 and not look at Nicholas Cruz, but the point is you're here and there some people who are not.
And I need to ask two things of you. Number one, Chris Grady, can you stand up? This is my friend who is going to the military. I need you to tell him that he's going to live to make it to serve our country. And then we'll get to the other one.
RUBIO: Not only are you going to live to serve our country, you and you and all of you have a chance to change our country. Change not just our laws but the way we talk about our laws. So absolutely.
KASKY: Thank you. And guys, look, this isn't about red and blue. We can't boo people because they're democrats and boo people because they're republicans. Anyone who is willing to show change, no matter where they're from, anyone who is willing to start to make a difference is somebody we need on our side here. And this is about people who are for making a difference to save us and people who are against it and prefer money. So Senator Rubio, can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA in the future?
KASKY: I wish I could have -- I wish I could have spoken -- I wished I could have asked the NRA lady a question. I would ask her, how she can look in the mirror, considering the fact she has children, but maybe she avoids those.
Later in the town hall, student activist Emma Gonzalez took a similar line to Kasky in attacking Loesch as a mother who opposes gun control. After a rambling speech, Gonzalez finally addressed Loesch directly: “Dana Loesch, I want you to know that we will support your two children in the way that we will not - - you will not.” In response, Loesch inexplicably thanked Gonzalez "for standing up and speaking out."
But Gonzalez's comments were pretty tame compared to an earlier speech given by yet another student activist, Michelle Lapido, who characterized anyone who accepts money from the NRA as taking “blood money”:
I just want to start with my school is not going to be another statistic in the 18 shootings that happened this year. My school's going to be the last and the beginning of gun control. Stoneman Douglas is strong and will be heard because our kids and our staff did not die for nothing. They died for change and they died for each other. Their deaths will not be taken in vain but as a calling for the change, gun control and safety in America. They're watching us from heaven and we are going to save what they died to protect.
So, I had a question for Ms. Loesch but she's not here yet. So for her and the NRA -- she's probably watching -- and all of you puppet politicians that they are backing. Was the blood of my classmates and my teachers worth your blood money?
Even Tapper thought that that “question” was too over-the-top, so he shut her down temporarily, resulting in boos from the crowd. After Lapido protested and requested permission to ask another question, Tapper relented, leading to another long speech:
LAPIDO: So, I'm going to have to go back to school. On to the same campus, the same building to pick up my stuff, to resume my classes, to keep studying and I'm never going to feel safe on another public school campus ever again. I never want to have to go through and feel like I'm putting myself in such a vulnerable situation ever because that was one of the worst moments of my life.
So why don't we consider the worst possible scenarios? Because these things have been happening all around the country and it's more common than winning any lottery. Why don't we assume the worst situation like we do on planes, where we have life vests in case we land in the ocean or slides in case we need to an emergency crash. Why don't we have Kevlar vests in classrooms for our students? Why don't we build our walls with Kevlar so that kids aren't being shot through their own walls because they're so cheaply built? Why don't we have more funding to protect ourselves? Why do you guys protect yourselves with guns, protect yourselves with vests and you protect America's children with nothing but drywall?
CNN really needs to come up with better explanations for its behavior that can't be debunked by using the network's own material.