CNN planted a question during last week’s debate of the Democratic presidential candidates at Faneuil Hall in Boston in an effort to keep the event “modulated” between serious and lighthearted questions, according to the student who participated in the charade.
During the 90-minute debate, sponsored by Rock the Vote and CNN, candidates were confronted with some unorthodox questions, including “Which of the other candidates would you party with?” and “Should Grady Little have replaced Pedro Martinez against the Yankees?”
The questions ostensibly reflected the interests of the youthful audience – all 18- to 30-year-old Democrats or independents registered to vote but undecided as to their choice.
But at least one of the questions was drafted by CNN producers.
Brown University student Alexandra Trustman claims she was called by producers the morning of the debate and asked to query the candidates as to whether they preferred the PC or Mac format for their computers.
Trustman shared her story during an online forum of the campus newspaper, the Daily Herald.
Trustman reportedly relayed intentions to beefen up the question, but says she was thwarted by CNN staff who handed her a note card spelling out the exact question to be posed.
“I don’t see the question’s relevance,” Trustman said she complained to the producer, who responded by explaining they needed such lighthearted questions to balance tougher questions.
Trustman said she was told the network “thought it would be a good opportunity for the candidates to relate to a younger audience.”
The orchestration efforts on the part of CNN succeeded, according to a Boston Globe review of the event. The local paper reported “it showed the Democratic presidential campaign to be a lively youngster.”
The incident, however, raises the question of to what extent the event was orchestrated by CNN and how many other questions were planted.
“In an attempt to encourage a lighthearted moment in this debate, a CNN producer working with Ms. Trustman clearly went too far,” CNN spokesman Matthew Furman told the Washington Post. “CNN regrets the producer’s actions.”
In April, CNN’s news chief Eason Jordan admitted in an editorial in the New York Times that his organization had learned some “awful things” about the Baathist regime in Iraq, including murders, tortures, assassination plots, that it did not broadcast. Jordan justified the omissions by asserting full reporting of known facts on the part of CNN “would have jeopardized the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff.”
The revelation followed CNN’s long insistence its coverage wasn’t biased.
Jordan’s confession prompted a former CNN Baghdad reporter, Peter Collins, to disclose in an editorial for the Washington Times that in 1993 he observed then-CNN President Tom Johnson “groveling” for an interview with Saddam Hussein. According to Collins, Johnson demanded that he read on the air some talking points provided by the Iraq Ministry of Information, and then complained after Collins complied about his “flat” delivery.
“I was astonished,” wrote Collins. “The President of CNN was telling me I seemed less-than-enthusiastic reading Saddam Hussein’s propaganda.”