CNN Gives Last-Minute Platform to Dem Candidate for Gabby Giffords' Seat

On the night before the special election in Arizona to fill former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' seat, CNN's Piers Morgan gave some last-minute positive airtime to Giffords' hand-picked Democratic candidate. He hosted both the candidate Ron Barber and Giffords' husband Mark Kelly on Monday for a soft interview.

In what set the tone for the rest of the interview, Morgan began with a rousing clip of Mark Kelly announcing that "This is more than just an ordinary election," and touting that "this is closure on Gabby's career in Congress."

The only real tough question to Ron Barber concerned his age and health in comparison to his younger opponent Jesse Kelly. But the rest of the questions involved Giffords' "collegial" and "bipartisan" politics, why Barber was running for the seat, and how much he supported President Obama – more a hard look at Obama than Barber.

Meanwhile, the CNN host ignored a controversy surrounding Barber that even MSNBC picked up on last week. A Democratic Super PAC aired video of his Republican opponent in 2010 saying Giffords was not a hero, implying that he was criticizing hero-worship of her after she had been shot in January of 2011 – even though his remark came before she was almost fatally wounded.

MSNBC's Chuck Todd pressed Barber over whether the ad was "appropriate." Piers Morgan failed to do as much the very night before the election. Instead he signed off the interview with a sunny farewell to his "chaps."

"Well regardless of the outcome, chaps, I think we both – Mark, you and I can agree it's fantastic to see both Gabby and Ron alive, well, back on the campaign stump. That's a brilliant place to find yourselves after what happened that awful day," he finished.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on June 11 on Piers Morgan Tonight at 9:48 p.m. EDT, is as follows:

PIERS MORGAN: Now, Ron, obviously a poignant time for you, as much as anything else. And you were involved in this ghastly incident. You injured yourself quite badly. What is your motivation? Why are you running?

RON BARBER, candidate for Congress: Well, I've been in public service just about all of my adult life, in addition to the time my wife and I spent running a small business. So to me this is an extension of my ability and opportunity to serve the community that I love so much. We have very deep roots here, my family and I. So I'm really grateful to be able to step up into a new arena, and new level of public service. Because I really believe that we need to serve our community and give back as much as we can.

MORGAN: It's not an easy election. The Republicans have got their gander up down where you are. Your critics say, look, you suffered a bullet to the cheek and to your leg. You're not a young man by comparison to your opponent. What do you say to those that say, you know, you're no spring chicken and the young guy should get a run?

BARBER: Well, that's a good question. I feel -- I think youth sometimes is part of a mind-set rather than an aging process. I feel very strong and very fit and ready to run for this office. I think I have a lot of experience to bring to the job, having been in this district for over 50 years. I came here in '59, when my father was in the Air Force.

I've learned a lot about this community. I love it very much. My family is all here. So I'm ready to run and ready to serve. So I'm looking forward to the opportunity to be hired by the people of Arizona to go be their voice in Washington.

MORGAN: Mark, one with thing that struck me, it was interesting to talk to you about, were the comments by Jeb Bush over the weekend, basically bemoaning the end of what he called bipartisan politics and wishing that everyone could be more collegial, work together more to get stuff done for the benefit of America. I know that's something that Gabby's felt strongly about. What did you think when you heard that?

MARK KELLY, astronaut: Well, I think he's got a good message there. When Gabby first entered Congress, the first time she was on the floor of the House, one of the first times, one of the first things she did is walk from – across from the left to the right side of the aisle to greet the Republicans that she hadn't met before. And these were people that she was able to establish a relationship and work to get things done for this country.

And we have an election here on Tuesday. And Ron plans to carry on with that attitude of bipartisanship and working together to solve the problems here in southern Arizona and around this nation.

MORGAN: Now Ron, again, your critics say you're not that keen on being too vocally supportive of President Obama. Is that true?

BARBER: Well I think that's the distraction my opponent has tried to use to move us away from what's really important to the people of southern Arizona. As I go across this district, they don't ask me about the presidential race. That's way off in the future and that's certainly not what I'm focused on. I'm focused on, what are the issues here? What are people concerned about in southern Arizona?

And they tell me plenty about that, about middle class concerns, about seniors who are concerned about veterans. And they want someone to go to Washington who is going to be focused on their issues and not be distracted by some diversion to a national race, which this is not. This is a race for Congressional District 8, not for anything else.

MORGAN: Right, but of course you are both Democrats and he is the President. So just for the purposes of clarification, are you a big supporter of the president?

BARBER: Well, when it comes to the November election, I will support the President. I will vote for him, because, quite clearly, his policies have – will benefit the middle class much more than his opponent's. It's really clear from what we've seen so far and what has been campaigned about. But again, I want to go back to the real issue for me, which is what is on the table for people who live here?

MORGAN: Now Mark, Ron was Gabby's director of district operations when the awful shooting happened. And she wanted him to stand, to run for this. Why Ron?

KELLY: Well, yeah, Piers, after Gabby made the decision to resign, one of the things we talked about early is who would be – who's the right candidate for this district? I mean, who is the person that is going to stand up for these people in southern Arizona the way Gabby did? And we actually went around the room and went through a lot of names and people that we thought might be interested.

And at the end of the day, Gabby turned to Ron and basically asked Ron if he would do this. It wasn't something that Ron had been thinking about for a long period of time. Gabby asked him to do this, he thought about it. It's absolutely the right decision. And it's because Ron has this -- has a career in public service. He's lived here for 50 years. He understands the issues that are important to the people here in southern Arizona.

There's a stark -- there's a very – there's a choice tomorrow that the people here will need to make. The differences between the two candidates are pretty striking. And Gabby and I are here this week not because Ron had worked for Gabby for three years or three terms, while she was in office, but because he's absolutely the right candidate to take over in CD-8.

MORGAN: Well regardless of the outcome, chaps, I think we both -- Mark, you and I can agree it's fantastic to see both Gabby and Ron alive, well, back on the campaign stump. That's a brilliant place to find yourselves after what happened that awful day. And it's been great to catch up with you again tonight. Thanks very much.
 

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014