(by Christina Bellantoni, Nov. 30, 2007, WashingtonTimes.com) – CNN intended for political sparks to fly during Wednesday”s Republican presidential debate, but outrage and accusations of partisanship were directed at the network instead.

The backlash started after it turned out that a homosexual retired soldier asking about “don”t ask, don”t tell” has an affiliation with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton”s campaign. The network was forced to apologize and scrubbed the exchange from its repeat of the two-hour debate, even though the Clinton campaign says retired Brig. Gen. Keith H. Kerr was not acting on behalf of the Democratic presidential front-runner.

But things spiraled downward for CNN yesterday as bloggers – a more natural audience for a debate co-hosted by YouTube – held each questioner under a magnifying glass and found anti-Republican links ranging from the Council on American-Islamic Relations to a pro-Democratic labor union. The network defended its choice of questioners and noted that it drew 5 million viewers – the most-watched primary debate ever.

Reports flew on the Internet that at least nine of the 34 questions posed via YouTube videos – on topics ranging from corn subsidies to Social Security reform – came from voters who have ties to Democrats or a vested interest in asking the Republicans to go on record.

“Would it have killed CNN to Google some of these people?” conservative blogger Jason Coleman asked.

On the personal Web page of David McMillan of Los Angeles, who asked the candidates why many black voters choose Democrats over Republicans, are many political videos, including one with a Politico.com video blogger asking which presidential candidate was most “gangsta.” In the video, he called Sen. John McCain of Arizona “Insane McCain.” There are also photos of him attending a fundraiser for Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and laudatory videos of former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, both Democrats.

Adam Florzak, who asked about Social Security, has an entire Web site devoted to the subject (pactamerica.com) and a 2005 article describes him as “hell-bent on reforming Social Security and the pension system” and working with someone from Democratic Whip Sen. Richard J. Durbin’s staff.

At his site, Mr. Florzak describes his efforts to get a personal meeting to put his Social Security plan into the hands of Mr. Obama and has posted a video of himself asking the Illinois Democrat about the issue during a town-hall meeting.

David Cercone asked why “Log Cabin Republicans [should] support” the candidates, leaving the impression that he is a member of the group. But bloggers uncovered an online profile in which he endorses Mr. Obama and praises him as “a leader who inspires me with his sincerity.”

The woman in Islamic dress identified as Yasmin from Huntsville, Ala., who asked a question about the U.S. image among Muslims, is a former intern at CAIR, the Muslim lobby group said yesterday evening on its Web site (cair.com).

Ted Faturos of Manhattan Beach, Calif., asked the candidates about their support for farm subsidies, taking a bite from an ear of corn to punctuate his point. Bloggers pretty quickly determined he once worked for Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat. Her office said he was a “high school intern” in a district office in 2004 and has had no contact with the office since.

After the debate, CNN apologized once it confirmed that Gen. Kerr is on the steering committee for LGBT Americans for Hillary. The Clinton campaign insists that Gen. Kerr was acting on his own behalf, which he also asserted yesterday morning in a CNN interview, saying that “I have not done any work” for Mrs. Clinton and that the question was not posed to him by any campaign or group.

“This was a private initiative on my own,” he said.

But the general’s question provoked both praise and angry reaction on his YouTube page, which also links to a film being made about the don’t ask, don’t tell policy. One person applauded the general for his “bravery in bringing up this point.” Another called his question “inspired.”

But “dantheman8282” complained that “with CNN at the helm,” the chances of having an “open and fair debate … are close to nil.”

“I have no idea how you, above almost all other YouTubers, should get press time and be given the floor at the CNN debate above all others,” dantheman8282 wrote. “The fact that you spoke longer than Duncan Hunter (who incidentally is a presidential candidate) is so bizarre and crazy.”

Questioner LeeAnn Anderson asked the candidates about lead paint in toys while holding her children. It was widely noted yesterday that Mrs. Anderson is an assistant to Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers of America. The union has endorsed former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina. Another questioner who asked about abortion reacted on her YouTube page while wearing an Edwards T-shirt.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg Public Policy Center said the YouTube format, puts an additional screening burden on organizers: “I’m always concerned when I don’t know how to judge the person asking the question, and it’s not someone who asks questions for a living.”

In a statement, CNN defended its question choices, saying “the whole point” is to open the questions to “a wider range of Americans all around the country. CNN cared about what you asked, not who you were.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee didn’t seem to mind and said he felt CNN chose a “pretty good balance” of questions. He said it was “refreshing … the questions came from people who weren’t being paid to ask them.”

But Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, complained to CNN yesterday, saying: “I think that should have been made public … [so candidates could] have a better way of judging the quality of the question.”

– Stephen Dinan and Joe Curl contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 News World Communications, Inc.  Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times.  This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization.  Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.


1.  a) How many questions were asked by people via YouTube video at CNN’s Republican presidential debate this week?
b)  How many of these questions are believed to have been asked by people who are involved with or support Democrats or the Democratic party?

2.  List 8 of these questions and how each person asking the question was associated with Democrats or Democratic organizations.

3.  What was the purpose of the Republican presidential debate this week?

4.  After the debate, how did CNN react to the point that Gen. Kerr is on the steering committee for LGBT Americans for Hillary?
(Watch Gen. Kerr’s question here.)

5.  CNN identifies itself as “America’s most trusted news source.”  In a statement, CNN defended its question choices, saying “the whole point” is to open the questions to “a wider range of Americans all around the country. CNN cared about what you asked, not who you were.”
Do you believe that when preparing for the debate, CNN did not check out the background of the people whose questions they chose to use?  Explain your answer.

6.  If Fox News had held a Democratic You Tube debate where 25% of the questions came from people associated with Republicans or Republican organizations, do you think media reaction to that news would be different than it will be regarding CNN?  Explain your answer.

7.  Should a primary debate include “activists” from the opposing party or be reserved for “the average citizen” who is a member of the party and wants to hear the candidates’ views on the issues?  Explain your answer.

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