Hillary's Planted Question Scandal Recalls ABC's Friendly Forum

On Sunday's "Good Morning America," ABC co-host Kate Snow reported on the growing controversy over the Clinton campaign's planting of friendly questions at political events. At the same time, she ignored her own network's role in creating a similar cozy setting for the 2008 Democrat. In March of this year, GMA hosted a town hall event where Doctor Steve Eckstat, who was on Hillary Clinton's 1993 health care task force, just happened to be in the audience for the ABC event.

Co-anchor Robin Roberts, who hosted the March 26 event, spun it this way: "Somebody that was there, and wants to ask you what is different now, between what happened then, and he is Dr. Steve Eckstat. He is, he works at the free clinic of Iowa. Doctor?" Eckstat's challenging question to the Democratic front-runner? He wanted to know if the former First Lady would be "willing to try again to provide universal health care coverage for all Americans and make that at priority for your administration?"

At one point, it should be noted, Eckstat can be seen reading his lengthy "question." During the March event, Roberts admitted that the ABC program had allowed Clinton to pack the audience. She announced, "...We have over 200 people, Iowans, that are here this morning to talk to the Senator. And we should say that 45 of the group, invited by the Clinton campaign to be here." During the segment on Sunday, Snow acknowledged that Clinton's campaign had directed a college student to ask a question on global warming earlier this month and the correspondent mentioned a second such occurrence at another event. However, she made sure to stress that these types of incidents play into the "stereotypes of Clinton as a tightly controlled machine." After several such examples, would ABC give the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt and still call them "stereotypes?"

A transcript of the March 26 exchange, as well as the November 11 GMA segment, follow:

3/26/07 7:08am

ROBIN ROBERTS What you said then in, in ‘93, many people felt it was just, in some ways, ahead of its, ahead of its time. Somebody that was there, and wants to ask you what is different now, between what happened then, and he is Dr. Steve Eckstat. He is, he works at the free clinic of Iowa. Doctor?

SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON: Hello, doctor.

DR. STEVE ECKSTAT: Morning. In 1993, I was a member of the Clinton Health Care Task Force when we were attempting to provide universal health care coverage of all Americans. We were unsuccessful, unsuccessful then and now the number of uninsured, 80 percent of whom are working families and individuals, has risen from 23 million in 1993 to over 46 million. If elected president, Senator Clinton, would you be willing to try again to provide universal health care coverage for all Americans and make that at priority for your administration?

CLINTON: Well, doctor, I certainly would. It’s one of the reasons why I am running for president. I thank you for your work back in 1993. We had a dedicated group of doctors and nurses, hospital administrators and so many others who were working literally around the clock to try to achieve a health care plan that would be available, guaranteed, affordable for every American. I think we’re in a better position to do that today than we were back in ‘93 and ‘94. In part, because the number of uninsured has grown and it's hard to ignore the fact that nearly 47 million people don't have insurance. But also because, so many people with insurance have found it's difficult to get health care because the insurance companies deny you what you need. And so there are many millions of more people who have had that experience, either themselves or in their families. And a lot of businesses are now saying we can't continue to afford to do this and it's really hard for small businesses, but even for large business to complete in the economy, especially globally, if they have to pay the cost of health care. The other thing we have information about now is how much money we're not spending in the right way in our health care system. We spend more money than anybody in the world by a very big number, but we don't provide people insurance and we waste a lot of money and we don’t get the best results. And we don’t get the best results. So, for all those reasons, I believe the American people are going to make this an issue in the 2008 campaign. And as President, I believe I learned a lot back in 1993 and ‘94 about how to bring us together to actually start down the path of universal health care coverage. So, I’m very excited about it, because I know we can do this in America if we put our minds to it.

11/11/07  8:08am

KATE SNOW: Marysol, just after New Year's Eve on January 3rd, Iowa voters will be the first to cast their votes for the presidential candidates. Well, last night in Des Moines, the Democrats were in full sales pitch mode, and Hillary Clinton's team was defending her against the kind of charges that play right into stereotypes of Clinton as a tightly controlled machine. At the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Des Moines last night, 9,000 Democratic party faithful.

SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON: There are some who will say they don't know where I stand. Well, I think you know better than that.

SNOW: It is the rubber chicken event for Democrats in Iowa. In dueling speeches, no one held back.

SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: When I am this party's nominee, my opponent will not be able to say that I voted for the war in Iraq.

SNOW: On this stage in this state, Hillary Clinton isn't so far out front. She and Barack Obama and John Edwards are virtually tied.

DAVID YESPEN (Des Moines Register): This is where something has to happen. They have to stop Hillary Clinton here, and so the challengers are pouring it on.

SNOW: The latest line of attack, that Clinton's team has been planting questions in Iowa.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE QUESTIONER: How does your plan combat climate change?

SNOW: On Friday, Clinton's campaign confirmed a staffer had directed that college student to ask that question on global warming earlier this month. They said it wouldn't happen again. Then Saturday, a minister from Iowa said he'd been told by Clinton's Iowa political director to ask a question about funding for the Iraq War at an event last spring. The campaign says it was a casual conversation and not a planted question.

SENATOR CHRIS DODD: That's not a terribly wise thing to do.

SNOW: Clinton's rivals ran with it.

FORMER SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS: My response is that's what George Bush does. George Bush goes to events that are staged where people are screened, where they're only allowed to ask questions if the questions are favorable.

FORMER MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI: I think the biggest problem with the Clinton campaign is not whether they plant questions at events, it's the whole shifting positions of Hillary Clinton, which I think have now caught up with her.

SNOW: It's criticism that plays well in Iowa. Caucus goers take their role very seriously and don't like any funny business.

YESPEN: They know they want to see the candidates perform, see how they stack up so that when they do make a decision that they're making the right choice.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org