CNN has come under hefty criticism for its last debate, including allegations of staging questions and misrepresenting featured audience members. Doug Ross rounds up the allegations arising at Gateway Pundit, Jammie Wearing Fool, and Hot Air, and they do tend to make CNN look a little foolish:
CNN hits bottom and digs: All six debate questioners appear to be Democratic Party operatives. So much for "ordinary people, undecided voters". To paraphrase Junior Soprano, CNN is so far up the DNC's hind end, Howard Dean can taste hair gel.
In a nutshell, CNN's six "undecided voters" were:
A Democratic Party bigwig
An antiwar activist
A Union official
An Islamic leader
A Harry Reid staffer
A radical Chicano separatist
Wow. This looks "rather" like a scandal.
Well, maybe. Putting these activists on camera under the impression that they represented non-partisan undecideds would have been very misleading, and completely inappropriate. Not having watched the debate, I don't know whether CNN used or implied that context.
However, I would doubt it. Primary debates focus on aligned voters, and usually the most activist voters pay any attention at all to them. It would not be surprising to see a Congressional staffer, a radical Chicano, and an anti-war protestor at a Democratic Party function. (It sounds like the start to a bad joke: "A Harry Reid aide, a radical Chicano, and an anti-war activist walk into a bar ...") The list accurately describes the constituencies of the Democratic party, and in fact appears fairly representative to me.
CNN's description of them as "undecided" may be entirely accurate. After all, I'm a Republican and a known conservative/center-right political writer and radio host -- but if I attended a Republican primary debate, I could also be described as "undecided". I haven't decided which Republican I will support in the primary, at least not yet. The same could be said for these six attendees at Thursday's Democratic presidential primary debate. They'll almost certainly support the Democrat who wins the primary, as I will the Republican, but they could very possibly have not decided on which Democrat they support for the nomination.
This context seems to be missing from the criticism of CNN, which deserves at least a little of what they're getting for not being more honest about the backgrounds of their featured audience members. "Undecided" at this point doesn't imply "independent" -- and in fact would make little sense in that context.
UPDATE: Posting at almost the same time I did, Jim Geraghty mostly concurs.