CNN In South Carolina Debate, 2008: Democrats Get First Question on Economy, Not Scandal

CNN's John King explained after the final South Carolina debate that he started by asking Newt about his "open marriage" because it seemed like the "elephant in the room." Former Bush aide Ari Fleischer dissented and said the economy is always the number one story, not just the political insider's hot story. So let's ask: when CNN hosted a Democratic debate in South Carolina on January 21, 2008, did they lead with a hot scandal or a personal peccadillo? Nope. They started with the economy.

It was the tenth anniversary of the Monica Lewinsky story breaking, and the debate stood out when Hillary slashed Obama on his relationship with shady financier Tony Rezko. But Monica and Clinton's impeachment never came up. CNN's Joe Johns led off by asking Hillary Clinton about just how generous her "stimulus" would be:

Senator Clinton, good evening. The number-one issue for Americans of both parties is the economy, and today the news is simply not good. Markets around the world are in a tailspin because of fears of a U.S. recession. So far this year, the Dow has lost nearly 9 percent. How much money would your stimulus plan put in the pockets of the average South Carolinian?

Hillary Clinton -- and not the CNN questioners -- raised Tony Rezko (who since then was sentenced to 10 and half years in prison for corruption), and at first Wolf Blitzer changed the subject:

CLINTON: It certainly came across in the way that it was presented, as though the Republicans had been standing up against the conventional wisdom with their ideas. I'm just reacting to the fact, yes, they did have ideas, and they were bad ideas.

OBAMA: I agree.

CLINTON: Bad for America, and I was fighting against those ideas when you were practicing law and representing your contributor, Rezko, in his slum landlord business in inner city Chicago. (Applause)

OBAMA: No, no, no.

BLITZER: Hold on one second. Hold on. Senator Edwards -- Senator Edwards has been remarkably patient during this exchange. And I want him -- I don't know if you want to get involved in this, Senator Edwards.

EDWARDS: What I want to say first is, are there three people in this debate, not two?

A little later, Blitzer calmly and vaguely served up the Rezko question to Obama:

BLITZER: I'm going to go to Suzanne Malveaux in a second, but I just want to give you a chance, Senator Obama, if you want to respond. Senator Clinton made a serious allegation that you worked for a slumlord. And I wonder if you want to respond.

OBAMA: I'm happy to respond. Here's what happened: I was an associate at a law firm that represented a church group that had partnered with this individual to do a project and I did about five hours worth of work on this joint project. That's what she's referring to.

He then changed the subject to how we needed "truthfulness" in our political speech. CNN hardly distinguished itself for scandal hardballs.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis