CNN and YouTube had weeks to select the questions for last night's debate, poring over 5,000 submissions to select the handful that made it to the candidates. They even flew a few of them to the debate in order to allow them a response to the answers provided by the Republican presidential hopefuls. Yet within minutes of the debate, bloggers discovered what CNN missed -- that one prominent questioner flown to Florida by CNN worked on the campaign of a Democratic rival, and that at least three other questioners have declared support for Democratic candidates. Michelle Malkin rounds it up:
The best thing about Republicans agreeing to do the CNN/YouTube debate is that it created yet another invaluable opportunity to expose CNN’s abject incompetence.
Retired Brig. Gen./gays in the military lobbyist/Hillary-Kerry supporter Keith H. Kerr wasn’t the only plant at the CNN/YouTube debate. The plant uncovering is in full-swing over at Free Republic.
Example: “Journey,” a.k.a. “Paperserenade,” the girl who asked an abortion question, is a declared John Edwards supporter. ... Brian McMurphy at SixMeatBuffet (hat tip See-Dubya) notes that David Cercone, the Pompano Beach, Florida, man who asked the question about Log Cabin Republicans, is a declared Obama supporter. ... The lead toy questioner, LeeAnn Anderson, who appears to be an ordinary mom concerned about her two children, whom she includes in her video, is a prominent Pittsburgh union activist–and aide to Leo Gerard, President of the American Steel Workers Union/John Edwards supporter.
Abject incompetence, yes. If these bloggers could discover this information -- mostly from their YouTube profiles, not exactly heavy lifting -- then CNN should have vetted the questioners better. With the possible exception of General Kerr, it doesn't appear that the questioners made any attempt to hide their affiliation; they simply posted their questions, and CNN blithely selected them at face value.
Bad journalistic practices? Definitely yes. But does that negate the questions themselves? I don't think so. The CNN/YouTube format closely parallels that of the traditional town-hall forum. For the most part, attendees do not get vetted at these events either, nor should they. After all, while a primary usually involves voters of one party, the entire nation has a stake in the selection of the nominees. If Hillary Clinton held a town hall in my community, I should have an opportunity to question her about her positions on issues without pledging a loyalty oath to do so.
The questions asked don't seem particularly outrageous. Kerr asked about gays in the military and Cercone about Log Cabin Republicans. Gays in the military have been a major policy issue for almost twenty years; gay issues relate to a major Republican strategy in the past two elections. The GOP encouraged ballot initiatives opposing same-sex marriage in 2004 and 2006 to help push evangelicals to the polls. Republicans make opposition to the "gay agenda" a big fundraising point on a regular basis. Those questions seemed reasonable, and reasonably asked. Although I disagree with the candidates on their positions on Kerr's point, they all gave reasonable and consistent answers.
The question on abortion -- would opposition to abortion mean jailing the women who seek them -- was hardly unusual. Fred Thompson actually gave the best answer on this, unflappable as always, which is that it doesn't happen that way now with clearly illegal abortions. Everyone on that stage has attacked Rudy Giuliani for his pro-choice view (with good reason, in my opinion); the Republicans have clearly made abortion a big issue in this primary. Shouldn't they expect to get precisely this question when talking about criminalizing abortion?
LeeAnn Anderson's question about toys, and by extension trade with China, may have come from left field, pun intended, but it touched on Duncan Hunter's biggest issue. He has been railing against free-trade agreements with China all during his presidential run. Also, it hardly needs to be said, but both Republican and Democratic parents and grandparents have concerns this Christmas about the next toy recall, and hoping their children and grandchildren don't find it the hard way. It's a rational question, made by someone with undisclosed interests in the answer, but the question itself is precisely the kind made in town-hall forums.
CNN deserves the brickbats it will receive for its atrocious research skills. However, Republicans should be prepared to answer the questions the candidates received in this debate. At some point, this will cease being an intramural fight and we will have to convince all of America to vote for our nominee. That won't happen if we can't handle fastballs, with a couple of curveballs in the mix.