Poor Wittle CNN

“So, Senator Sanders, do you think that someone who’s profited from the current so-called healthcare system, like John Delaney, is qualified to tell you not to change it?”

is a different sort of question from

“So, Congressman Delaney, won’t good Americans run screaming from Senator Sanders’ rabid socialism?”


“Senator Warren, what percentage of federal discretionary spending now goes to militarism and what percentage should?”

is a different sort of question from

“Senator Warren, we’ve all heard that irrelevant crap about how Medicare for All will cost people less money overall, but will you just admit that it would raise taxes on the Middle Class?”

Yet, according to David Dayen, “CNN has no politics. CNN has no understanding of politics or policy. . . . The CNN debate was an inevitable by-product of turning news into an entertainment and cultural product.”

And Matt Stoller opines in response to a complaint about CNN’s rightwing questions: “I don’t think this is fair. How else are you supposed to ask questions with someone like @JohnDelaney on stage? Moderating a high-quality debate with a bunch of irrelevant trollish candidates on stage getting time is basically impossible.”



Let’s go to the transcript.

This is the sort of rot that is apparently “possible”:

“Just 15 seconds on the clarification. You are willing to raise taxes on middle-class Americans in order to have universal coverage with the disappearance of insurance premiums, yes or no?”

“Senator Sanders, you want to provide undocumented immigrants free health care and free college. Why won’t this drive even more people to come to the U.S. illegally?”

“Senator Warren, you make it a point to say that you’re a capitalist. Is that your way of convincing voters that you might be a safer choice than Senator Sanders?”

“Senator Warren, you want to make it U.S. policy that the U.S. will never use a nuclear weapon unless another country uses one first. Now, President Obama reportedly considered that policy, but ultimately decided against it. Why should the U.S. tie its own hands with that policy?”

Whereas these questions would presumably have been impossible:

Virtually every other wealthy nation on this planet spends less and gets more, when it comes to healthcare. Which of them have the most to teach us?

What would be some of the economic and cultural benefits of making education and healthcare and housing and retirement universal human rights?

The Doomsday clock is as close to nuclear apocalypse as it has ever been. What would you do to back it off?

How do wars and coups and support for dictatorships fuel refugee crises and what would you change?

With some super-profitable corporations paying no taxes, some individuals with super-high incomes paying a lower tax-rate than ordinary people, a regressive cap on taxes for Social Security, no wealth tax, and no tax on the vast majority of estates, what will you do to make taxation less regressive and more progressive?

How many current U.S. wars can you list and which would you end?

Of course, CNN gears its questions toward conflict which it imagines is good for ratings. But taking sides with the furthest right candidates is only one way to generate conflict, and not a very successful one. Here are some other ways:

  • take sides with the furthest left candidates,
  • take sides with nobody,
  • ask questions nobody’s likely to have prepared for,
  • include moderators who don’t all agree with a plutocratic militarist perspective,
  • ask the candidates with 1% support why they don’t quit.

When I worked for Dennis Kucinich, and it was the more progressive candidates who were lower in the polls and marginalized in the debates, the moderators of these debates actually did what people are now suggesting they could do, namely encouraged the lower polling candidates to get out of the race. They spent significant debate time on that.

Prior to this debate, FAIR and RootsAction.org proposed that CNN add a progressive journalist as a questioner for the Democratic debates. For Republican debates, CNN includes rightwing questioners not normally on CNN. For Democratic debates it does not include leftist questioners traditionally banned from U.S. airwaves. Why? Is this approach dictated by the ineluctable forces of infotainment capitalism?

Nonsense. Much is. But not this. The fact is that CNN is biased. Aren’t you shocked to hear that? Why do we have to constantly point it out? CNN acts on behalf of its owners, its advertisers, and those it wants access to. There are exceptions. Sometimes it challenges certain entrenched interests, but not usually.

We should not be surprised. But we should never be complacent. We should never accept CNN as it is.

3 thoughts on “Poor Wittle CNN”

  1. I disagree with David Dayen’s conclusion. I believe that CNN management wants to see a moderate Democrat like Biden, Harris or Buttigieg win. Their goal for the evening was thus to take down Sanders and Warren.

    The political calculation is that a non-Progressive candidate can more easily compete for moderate voters in swing states, thereby defeating Trump – who they clearly oppose.

    Although I understand this logic, I agree that CNN’s handling of the debate constituted journalistic malpractice. They should ask more neutral questions and avoid putting their thumb on the scale.

    1. Always hard to know what to say when somebody announces that they disagree with me and then says stuff I agree with.

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