On Monday morning, April 21, CNN aired "America Votes 2008” with Rick Sanchez, (11:30 AM CT) a segment that featured reporter Sanchez visiting Penn State University to talk to some of the students about the upcoming Pennsylvania Democratic Primary. In the aftermath of CNN's visit, some of the students involved in the taping are alleging that Sanchez was so virulently skewed to the left that he berated and bullied students who held a differing point of view. It was reportedly so bad that CNN crewmembers even apologized to several students for Sanchez' incivility.
On Sunday, CNN touted Sanchez’ Pennsylvania segments as putting him "on the road in Pennsylvania ahead of Tuesday's crucial vote" and claims to be interested in "what's on their minds before they cast their ballots?" But at the Penn State University segment, at least as far as at least some of the students involved are concerned, what was on their minds didn't interest Sanchez at all. To the contrary, what was on his mind was all that concerned him they allege.
CNN contacted students in several political clubs at Penn State to arrange for the interview and two weeks ago their cameras and crews arrived at the university to film the segment with the on-air personality.
21-year-old journalism student Chelsea Brown, though, was less than impressed by Sanchez' bellicose confrontations during the taping with several of the students including herself. I spoke with Miss Brown after the interview and she told me was offended and shocked by Sanchez' lack of professional comportment.
"Not only were the interview questions blatantly skewed to the left, those of us that did not agree with Sanchez's political views were told that we were wrong and that we supported Communist thought for not questioning our government more (this related specifically to supporting the troops and their mission in Iraq). In a further discussion in which Sanchez was defending himself against "supporting the troops, but not the war," he told us that "no one really cares what the troops think anyway."
Miss Brown even told me that several of the crew members sought her out afterward to apologize for Sanchez' behavior, "probably hoping that I wouldn't speak to how poorly this reflects on CNN," she said.
Brandon Means, a Junior majoring in Political Science and past chair of the Penn State College Republicans, agreed with Miss Brown's assessment.
"I went into the interview expecting it to be biased, this is CNN we're talking about, but I didn't expect it to be an attack on Conservatives. There were four members of the College Republicans interviewed, and three democrats. The interview by Mr. Sanchez was atrocious. Never before have I witnessed such glaring bias in a member of the media. Mr. Sanchez didn't even make an attempt to hide his true beliefs."
Mr. Means was shocked at the way Sanchez attempted to twist everything that the conservative students said and was disgusted by the softball questions the Democrat leaning students were given by the CNN reporter.
“He continually gave the Democrats softball questions, while asking the Republicans the most biased and leading questions. It would be akin to him asking the Democrat, ‘So, you like change?’ while asking the Republicans, ‘So, you like to kill babies in Iraq?’"
Means attested that Sanchez was particularly interested in confronting Miss Brown. Even during the filming Means says that Sanchez "continually twisted things she said into something unrecognizable."
Means was most amazed, though, by what happened after the cameras were turned off.
"That's when Sanchez began his personal attacks on Chelsea. Going so far as to call her a communist. Even in this after interview session, Mr. Sanchez acted terribly for a CNN anchor. He constantly berated our conservative views. He continually questioned our patriotism and continued his trend of twisting our words into something unrecognizable as anything that came out of our mouths."
Mr. Means buttressed Miss Brown's claims that the CNN crew came up and apologized for their reporter's over-the-top behavior.
Student Alex Smith, a Republican, also said in a phone interview with me that he felt that Sanchez was "unprofessional," was "pushing an agenda," and that Sanchez was "argumentative and trying to get a rise out of the students" with his reactions to the student's comments. Mr. Smith felt that Sanchez was constantly looking for things about which to be contentious.
“We could also tell the interview was bad because of the way the production staff reacted to it. I overheard the sound guy tell Chelsea, ‘I think it's only fair, you do know how this is going to be edited, right?’ It was very clear that the crew was disturbed by some of the things Mr. Sanchez said, and with the way the interview was carried out in general.
A great example occurred shortly after the interview. The director, or intern, I believe his name was Jason, found Chelsea and myself downstairs in our union building and tried to smooth things over. It was clear that he was scared about Chelsea saying something about the manner in which the interview was conducted. ‘I just wanted to make sure you know, especially you Chelsea because you're a journalism major, that that's not the way we usually do things. You have to understand Rick [Mr. Sanchez], that's just his shtick. He likes to ask questions like that to get people fired up and emotional that way they give a good interview. You know, the interview started a little slow, so he just wanted to get things moving. Other CNN reporters aren't like that, that's not the way things normally are.’
It was very clear after Jason approached us that even he knew the interview hadn't been a very good one.”
However, one of the other students that participated in the interview, Ryan McNair a self-proclaimed moderate on politics, said that he thought Sanchez conducted a balanced interview and that Sanchez "worked a lot to try to loosen us up." So, not everyone involved was as put off by Sanchez' approach.
The segment itself featured Sanchez offering negative points against only John McCain, but not any negative points against either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.
Sanchez’ first negative comment against McCain brought up the misleading statement that “John McCain says that if we have to be there 100 years we should be there,” to which Miss Brown rightfully reminded Mr. Sanchez that McCain didn’t say we’d be there 100 years “fighting and fighting and fighting.”
Sanchez next tried to hit John McCain with, “Do you think John McCain’s gonna have a tough time of it because he’s trying to please Peter to pay Paul?” After some of the student’s comments where it was posed to Sanchez that Republicans wouldn’t vote for Hillary or Obama, Sanchez insisted that because GOP voters don’t like McCain and that “they’ll stay home” on election day.
Then Sanchez asked student Dane Peterson why he’s “having real hesitation voting for John McCain?” The student answered that McCain was somehow backing away from gays, so he is hesitant for that reason. Sanchez’ reply was a “Go Dane” as the reporter gleefully clapped his hands together.
All this doubt and negativity against McCain was not balanced with any negativity against either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. So, it seemed clear that McCain was a target during the segment. Not much balance there.
Rick Sanchez has been accused of unprofessionalism before, though, so these new allegations might come as no surprise to many. Back on May 13th, for instance, Sanchez blurted out that he felt a solution to the conflict in Iraq would be that we should either leave all enemies alone and play nice, or kill every one and be done with it.
In reply to a discussion of the fine job General Petraeus is doing with the current Surge policy, Sanchez offered his nonsensical "solution."
I'm just thinking that is there a way to win? And what is the definition of winning? Mine would be -- I'll share mine with you. Mine would be, A, stop killing them, thereby they'll stop hating you and wanting to kill you, or B, kill them all.... Are any of those options?
In November of 2007, Sanchez also placed himself into the story of a McCain supporter who said Hillary was a "bitch" and tired to make the comment out as the fault of McCain himself. Of that incident, even CNN's own media critic, Howard Kurtz, said that the annoyance expressed by MacCain's campaign "has a point." Krutz went on to say that, "That little incident was pretty badly hyped by Rick Sanchez."
In any case, it seems that Sanchez was as confrontational during his Penn State University interview as he has been in the past and this calls into question his bias while reporting the news.
(Photo credit: CNN.com)