The CNN/RubeTube Debate

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By Marty Kaplan // Resident Blogger at HP

Dateline: November 25, 2007 | Crosspost with HUFFINGTON POST

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The perfect meshing of phony politics and phony media: the supposedly uber-democratic CNN-YouTube debates, with completely massaged outcomes. American democracy has truly become a simulacrum of itself. It’s just show business, folks.

Over 4,000 Americans have submitted video questions for the candidates who have been humiliated into participating this week in the entertainment marketing scam known officially as The CNN/YouTube Republican Debate. It’s bad enough that presidential aspirants of both parties are so cowed by the networks that they have ceded their dignity, not to mention our democracy, to these degrading gongshows, complete with breathless postgame analyses by the same preening interlocutors who posed as neutral referees just moments before. But the faux populism of the YouTube format is an Orwellian leap even for CNN, where anchors are already required to i.d. correspondents as “part of the best political team on television.” (Every time Wolf says that, an angel is lethally injected.)

Have you looked at the questions submitted on YouTube? An astonishing number of them are heartfelt inquiries about gayness in America. Lynn and Pat Mulder of Auburndale, Florida talk about their son Ryan, who was murdered in March because he was gay; they ask the candidates what they will do to make this the kind of country where that will not happen. Former Major League baseball player Billy Bean asks whether the GOP candidates will “stop embracing religion-based bigotry against gays and lesbians.” If you flip through the posted videos, it seems as though every twenty questions there’s the face of a teenager talking about being born gay, a twenty-something talking about being Christian and gay, a plea about LGBT hate crimes, about the Godliness of all human love, about the depression and suicide fostered by fundamentalist preachers and their political fellow-travelers.

You could fill the entire two hours of the CNN/YouTube debate with those questions. But if the New York Times’ account of how the seven-person CNN team will select the winning questions is accurate, actually you won’t see a single one of them during the televised debate. David Bohrman, CNN’s Washington bureau chief and executive producer of the debate, told the Times’ blog The Caucus that posts “asking the candidates to defend their opposition to gay marriage” are “‘lobbying grenades’ [that] would be disqualified by the CNN selection team… There are quite a few things you might describe as Democratic ‘gotchas,’ and we are weeding those out’… CNN wants to ensure that next Wednesday’s Republican event is ‘a debate of their party.'”

Not only is this stunningly disrespectful to the many Log Cabin and other self-described gay Republicans who submitted YouTube questions; it’s also a telling reminder of the game that CNN is really playing. Sure, their Web site says “YOU ask the questions of the candidates” (“Be original… Be personal”). But if YOU don’t fit the CNN profiling division’s definition of a Republican, then no matter how personal your sexual orientation may be, no matter how original you are in the way you ask it, the CNN team will yank you from the questioner pool like cyber-crabgrass.

The notion that the CNN/YouTube debate represents a grass-roots triumph of the Internet age is laughable. The 4,000+ videos are pawns; the questioners are involuntary shills, deployed by the network producers in no less deliberate, calculating and manipulative a fashion as the words and stories fed by teleprompters into anchors’ mouths. If you want to see what a legitimate grass-roots online debate looks like, have a gander at At that site, it’s not concealed network gatekeepers who decide what citizens’ questions should be censored; it’s the same community who submitted them in the first place that gets to vote. What’s more, they also get to vote on whether the candidates adequately answered the questions. Apparently that’s too much democracy for CNN. I guess it would be way too embarrassing if part of the best political team in America turned out not to be on television at all.

—Marty Kaplan is a resident blogger at Huffington Post.


A sampling of comment found at Huffington Post:

Among the teachings of a wise Persian teacher named Gurdief was the concerpt of “The 3rd Force.” When 2 opposing forces exist it takes a 3rd force to bring about resolution. In our country we have 2 Parties and the Media. And were the latter doing their job they would be educating the electorate and helping Americans sort fact from fiction.
Since there is so much fiction and deception, particularly in the lies and ill will of the Republican Party (and now on the part of the Obama and Edwards campaigns) the above honest task by the Media is more than desparately needed…WE ARE HUNGRY FOR IT.
But during times when people are voting team members of the Island and in dysfunctional institutions…those who are most in need, not to mention vulnerable are those who are shafted.
This was also true in Nazi Germany where the disabled were the first to be killed (prior even to the Gays, Jews and Gypsies)
In the Republican/Media symbiosis we have the Media as the Appeasers of the Radical Right Wing Republican Totallitarians (Beholden to them for Media Consolidation) while the Republicans get to poison the Information Pipelines so critical for an informed electorate.
And if a CNN/Time Warner allows, for example allows for intelligent questions (as was true in the last Democratic debates..notwithstanding Wolf Blitzer’s behavior)…they are Pushed into place by Movement Organ Fox Newscorp…which after last week’s debate began calling CNN “the Clinton Network News”
for not doing what CNBC had done..
Challenge Democrats with Erroneous “when did you stop beating your wife” Republican Talking Points. As long as Republicans control the Executive and therefore the FCC Republicans will not be challenged for their blatant bigotry.Correction: Meant to say MSNBC versus CNBC. But its’ all NBC/GE.
I have a question that none of the candidates could answer, YouTube or not:
What, pray tell, is a “terrorist”? Not a single one of these bozos could answer that question, yet it continues to define our nation’s Neocon-derthalian foreign policy.
“Let’s see… a terrorist would be somebody that uses dirty tactics to achieve a narrow political agenda. Wait, I just defined politician.” It’s just sad, Marty-Pants. Keep up the good reporting, my man!
Even CNN’s Jack Cafferty is appalled by the used-car salesman tactics of his network. I remember one time he told Wolfe to turn off the music they were playing behind his segment, and another he said it made him sick to hear that “best political team” pitch Wolfe drags out every five minutes.
I fully expect that by the time the election rolls around, CNN will be interviewing Karl Rove for his thoughts on the horse race as a Washington Post contributor.
Won’t that be enlightening?
I agree that the CNN/Youtube format is more than likely going to be a sham as it was with the Dems but your alternative at 10 questions will be as big a waste as the candidates are not participating. The youtube system does allow the questioners to attempt to influence the electorate.
The smug, insulated and pompous media is only slightly more obnoxious than the smug, insulated and pompous candidates.
Those YouTube questions are submitted mainly by video exhibitionists who only want bragging rights among their fellow shut ins if their ridiculous and self serving questions are chosen for the proper exploitation.
So Marty, what you seem to be saying is that… Not only has the news media pretty much decided who our leading candidates will be…. but they are also deciding what questions can be asked of some of those candidates? Gee whillikkers… what a surprise.
Debates have become such scripted, rehearsed, time-wasting events where 80% of the debaters stand around while 20% of the debaters (the chosen ones) answer the questions… that I usually feel that my time would be better spent watching a documentary on the sex life of Galapagos tortoises.
Next, you will probably tell us that these debaters don’t really mean a word they say… they just say what people want to hear. Didn’t George W. Bush disprove that theory? Not much chance the gatekeepers are going to like my question:

Giuliani claims, “American foreign policy had nothing to do with the September 11th. September 11th happened because these people who hate us, hate us because of the freedoms that we have.” Giuliani is lying to us. see my question to him:
Great post, Marty. I don’t think there’s anything more telling about the state of the modern news media than CNN’s Washington bureau chief admitting that they now consider asking candidates to defend their position on an issue a “gotcha” question.
Good lord. Yeah, CNN. Let’s not upset anyone by asking them to defend or justify a position. That might lead us to horrible consequences, like maybe forcing a President to think through going to war before he actually starts sending in the troops. You know, things like that.
Whatever happened to that old time tradition of holding ALL DAY DEBATES – OUT IN THE OPEN – in the PUBLIC SQUARE….People would bring potluck, stake their place and look forward to the comprehensive speeches, followed by a full-blown one-on-one from members of the audience and FROM EACH OTHER….What’s so HARD ABOUT THAT?
Basically, it is because everyone of these ‘politicos’ have someone on the other side that hates their rhetoric and their ideology so much, they would be willing to face the death penalty or their life in prison for the honor of having the chance to change history by removing that person from the pedestal.
Now – THAT is the sad, sad commentary on the Two-Party, Uber-partisan crap that tries to pass itself off as “democratically elected” in America.
They don’t give a damn about ‘the masses’ -They want access to the power and cash accumulated “in their name” for THEIR ideological use. A pox on all their houses.
They are all bound by their words. So far, so good. Gridlock.
That these TV “debates” are rigged is shocking, absolutely SHOCKING!
C’mon Marty, why belabor the obvious?
As usual, this is a kind of farce that basically says “It’s NEWS because we SAY it’s news!” CNN is not quite as bad as Faux Noise, but it’s sure giving them a run for their money.
How can someone like Wolf Blitzer claim any major status as a “journalist?”
There are so many others that could do a better job.
If CNN wanted credibility they would have let Jack Cafferty pick the questions.
Thank you for shedding some light on this drama — called a debate “questions from the grassroots”. Uh…I suppose the joke is on us who tuned in strongly believing we were hearing from a cross-section of Americans.
Yes, let’s suggest they allow a real, tough no nonsense journalist to pick the questions– Jack Cafferty fits the bill. Wolfe, you wouldn’t be a part of any of this?
10Q is a terrible idea, because it can be manipulated, as it has been at least two times already:
“Most popular” is frequently not the same as “best”.
As for the debates, a far better format is described here:
Those could be low-budget, quickly-arranged productions; the only issue is getting the candidates to agree and then fitting it into their schedules.
Thanks Marty. CNN must take the American people to be bofoons.
What about the gun question at the Democratic/YouTube debate? Was that a question for the Democrats “own party”? CNN is full of crap.
I wonder if morals and values questions will on the menu? Or my personal favorite “the culture of life”.
“…CNN, where anchors are already required to i.d. correspondents as “part of the best political team on television.” (Every time Wolf says that, an angel is lethally injected.)”
I had the same reaction. It’s a GREAT line. And an excellent article. I feel like I’m living in bizarro world right now. I want to go back to the real world where I liked my country and there weren’t maniacs pretending to be president and other maniacs trying to replace them… and pseudo news people causing the deaths of unsuspecting angels, divine or human.
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