November 30, 2007

Define 'Extremely Hard'

Howard Kurtz reviews the CNN debacle in his column today, an extension of his blog post at The Trail last night. He leads with CNN's expression of regret over the inclusion of General Keith Kerr, a member of Hillary Clinton's campaign steering committee on gay and lesbian issues. But at the end, Kurtz includes this strange defense from CNN's Washington bureau chief David Bohrman:

Bohrman said he had no problem using questioners who have voiced support for other candidates as long as they are not donors or formally affiliated with any campaign. "We bent over backwards to be fair," he said. "We're not perfect. But we tried extremely hard."

Extremely hard? That seems very questionable, as James Joyner points out in a quote Kurtz includes just before this. Within minutes of the broadcast, bloggers using nothing more than Google unearthed Kerr's connection to the Hillary Clinton campaign. With the other questioners, CNN apparently didn't even bother to peruse their posted profiles on their YouTube accounts, where they could have easily discovered their professed support for their candidates.

The irony in this is that Google owns YouTube -- and that Google paid for Kerr's flight to St. Petersburg so he could participate in the debate. Apparently Google doesn't know how to use its own product. Google didn't broadcast the debate, however; that was CNN's function, and their name lent this whatever journalistic credibility it had.

Memo to CNN: quit trying to excuse this away. No one tried "extremely hard" to vet these questions. Obviously, no one tried vetting them at all. The continuation of the pretense only damages your credibility even further than the debate did.

What a shame, too, because the questions themselves weren't so bad. The plants revealed their own prejudices against the GOP, and the candidates did a good job of swatting them aside. The worst inclusions didn't come from the plants, but from CNN's decision to include insulting questions about Confederate flags and the Bible, which revealed CNN's prejudices about Republicans. Mitt Romney gave the best response to this when he asked contemptuously why the flag question even got selected for a presidential debate. Otherwise, with just over 30 questions in the debate, most of them focused on policy in substantive ways and provoked perhaps the best intramural exchanges in the debates this year.

CNN blew it, and blew it big -- and they didn't try extremely hard to avoid it. They got extremely sloppy and careless, and they got caught.


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