MEDIA

CNN and Cooper: Questionable Debate Management

Going into last night's debate, CNN didn't want to be thought of as an editorial "gatekeeper" of the People's YouTubes. For his part, Anderson Cooper wanted to be known as the guy who would "make sure that the candidates actually answer the questions." Whether either succeeded is debatable. Jeff Jarvis, who championed the idea of the YouTube debate, came away disappointed:

CNN selected too many obvious, dutiful, silly questions. Anderson Cooper didn't pace the debate; he tried to trip the runners. The videos were too tiny to be given justice. The candidates' videos were just commercials. There were far too few issues. There were too many candidates. The candidates gave us the same answers they always give. I have no doubt -- no doubt -- that we, the people, would have done a better job picking the questions than CNN did.

Opinions did differ on this regard--C|Net, for one, called last night's debate "a success"--but Jarvis raises a lot of good points. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, let us direct you attention to the above image, where the large screen which showed the YouTube videos is prominently displayed. As you can see, for all the talk of how revolutionary this debate format would be, CNN seemed to give the interrogators short shrift. The YouTube screen was given a paltry amount of on-screen real estate, ceding it to sponsor logos, graphical cruft, and a sea of white space. Why not give the main attraction--the citizen videos--a bit more prominence? This was compounded by frustrating directorial decisions to awkwardly cut away from the videos for things like candidate reactions.

In one notably egregious instance noted by Washington Post critic Tom Shales, the cameras cut away to a long shot of a question which mimicked Bob Dylan's video for "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and its series of placards. What's the point in encouraging this sort of creativity, if no one's going to get to see it?

At other times, there didn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to Cooper's moderation. Shales notes at least one instance in which a question intended for all the candidates got handed to Joe Biden in particular. One of the more arresting questions of the night, which came from a lesbian couple from Brooklyn, who asked if the candidates would allow them to marry. It was a charming question, but also very confrontational, and one has to imagine that Mary and Jen of Brooklyn would have liked the frontrunners to be confronted by it (or at least their own Senator). But Cooper handed it off to Dennis Kucinich, Chris Dodd, and Bill Richardson instead. Why not trouble the top dogs with the query?

Even more bizarre was the way Cooper treated a question asked by Fuland Del Tal, who wanted to know what the candidates would do to remedy Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid--raise taxes or cut benefits. Onstage were numerous candidates who had participated in the debate over Social Security when it was a priority of the Bush Administration, yet the one person Cooper put the question to? Bill Richardson! Who as the Governor of New Mexico, hasn't had a vote in that debate in years. Sadly, none of the frontrunners were troubled with the question.

Related:
Their debate [BuzzMachine]
Hi, I'm Tom In Washington, And My Question Is for CNN... [Washington Post]

Previously, on Eat The Press
CNN: The Most Trusted Name In Picking Favorites