CNN and 4 Dems Opt to Skew Debate

By David Swanson

CNN allowed the eight Democratic presidential campaigns to vote: Should CNN continue to place its preferred candidates together in the center of the stage in order to keep the candidates it ignores off camera at the edges, or should it follow the model PBS used last week and choose candidate positions on the stage by random drawing? Dodd, Gravel, and Kucinich were joined by Hillary Clinton in opting for the random drawing. Edwards and Obama were joined by Richardson and Biden in opting to stick Edwards, Clinton, and Obama in the middle. The vote was four to four. What to do? Appeal to the public? You’re kidding, right? CNN cast the deciding vote itself and will stick with the podium positioning that suits its stance of choosing our elected officials for us.

The PBS debate at Howard University last week chose candidate positions on the stage by random drawing and sent a video of the random drawing to each campaign. It also gave the candidates equal time and respect, and asked them all about the same topics. Not exactly rocket science, but a pretty stunning breakthrough for a presidential campaign debate. You can watch it at

How stunning was the Howard debate? Let’s put it this way. It is not uncommon at debates and forums, nor was it four years ago, for Congressman Dennis Kucinich to win more applause than the other candidates but then go entirely unmentioned in the subsequent media coverage. Well, PBS and Howard not only held a fair debate, but they also polled a focus group during the debate and recorded, for example, who had the best received line. PBS brought on a Republican pundit who chattered about Clinton’s second-highest response line, but PBS released the data, so it is possible to find out that Kucinich had the highest single moment with a line about how if Darfur had oil, we’d already have occupied them.

In addition, Tavis Smiley & PBS were running an electronic poll, before and after the debate, in which Kucinich moved from 2.5% before the debate to 13.3% after–the biggest percentage jump by far (>5 times!), and the second biggest in raw numbers (11% gain). Edwards went up about 12%, which doubled his score. Both Obama and Clinton went down.

Kucinich moved from 2% to 13% in one debate??!! Is it any wonder CNN prefers to run its debates in a manner that shuts out the candidates who do not support its corporate agenda? Imagine where Kucinich would be in national polls if all the debates were run in a strictly fair manner!

There are forums, like Monday’s in Philadelphia run by ACORN at which the participating candidates are treated fairly. But there are others, such as a recent forum run by Sojourner’s, at which organizations go CNN one better and exclude certain candidates entirely. For now, CNN can only dream of such things. For now, it is stuck with having to place its preferred candidates in the center of the stage, ask them 80 percent of the questions, and ridicule their opponents. Considering CNN’s record of political reporting, the center of its stage ought to be a place of the highest dishonor. Maybe that’s why Richardson and Biden sided with a scheme that does not favor them. More like, they’re just Democrats, and that’s what Democrats do.

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