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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Upstaging the Debaters

Having watched the CNN Democratic debate last night, and read a lot of the spin, I think Matt Yglesias has far and away the best take on it: The CNN crew, and particularly Wolf Blitzer, distorted the whole event by coming up with bad, “gotcha” questions and then getting hostile when the candidates naturally resisted walking into a trap and instead tried to address the broader issues involved in, say, immigration reform or Iraq.
Add in the weird efforts to restate audience questions, and the exceptionally intrusive CNN branding of the debate (including the clock-chewing basketball-players-take-the-court intros of the candidates, which mainly allowed CNN “analysts” to tell us what we were about to hear), and the generally lame-o post-debate commentary, and you had a “debate” that struggled to overcome its media sponsor.
I also agree with Matt that the whole MSM take on the debate–a media-contrived HRC “comeback” after a media-contrived HRC “stumble”–was news management at its worst. It was hard, though, not to sympathize a bit with Clinton after two straight debates set up as exercises in King of the Mountain.
There were a couple of occasions when Wolf and company made unaccountable omissions in which candidates got to address which questions, probably because of CNN’s self-inflicted time problems. Obama didn’t get to talk about teacher merit play, though he’s the only candidate who’s addressed the subject in anything other than a negative way. And even more striking, the question about the need for bipartisanship was pitched to everyone other than John Edwards, who has made a big deal out of a very contrary attitude towards cooperation with the GOP.
All in all, not a shining moment for CNN, or for the level of political discourse.

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