It's one thing for NewsBusters and conservative commentators to blast CNN for its shoddy "moderation" of the recent Republican YouTube debate. It's quite another thing to see CNN get eaten by one if its own. And that's exactly what happened in the surprising LA Times article titled "CNN: Corrupt News Network."
LA Times Columnist Tim Rutten (who is no stranger to NewsBusters) pulls no punches in blasting CNN.
[T]his most recent debacle masquerading as a presidential debate raises serious questions about whether CNN is ethically or professionally suitable to play the political role the Democratic and Republican parties recently have conceded it.
Selecting a president is, more than ever, a life and death business, and a news organization that consciously injects itself into the process, as CNN did by hosting Wednesday's debate, incurs a special responsibility to conduct itself in a dispassionate and, most of all, disinterested fashion. When one considers CNN's performance, however, the adjectives that leap to mind are corrupt and incompetent.
In a fabulous irony, Rutten uses liberal arguments to prove CNN's corruption. Rutten's basic argument is that most Americans "think the war in Iraq is the most important issue facing the United States, followed by the economy, healthcare, and energy prices." According to Rutten (and backed by a Pew poll), "Americans do not think immigration is the most important issue confronting the country."
Rutten also makes the obvious point that if CNN is choosing which YouTube questions are asked, then they are really CNN's questions and agenda. Having made these points, and supposedly "establishing" that Americans are not concerned about immigration, Rutten levels a serious accusation of self-interest and corruption at CNN.
So, why did CNN make immigration the keystone of this debate? What standard dictated the decision to give that much time to an issue so remote from the majority of voters' concerns? The answer is that CNN's most popular news-oriented personality, Lou Dobbs, has made opposition to illegal immigration and free trade the centerpiece of his neonativist/neopopulist platform. In fact, Dobbs led into Wednesday's debate with a good solid dose of immigrant bashing. His network is in a desperate ratings battle with Fox News and, in a critical prime-time slot, with MSNBC's Keith Olbermann. So, what's good for Dobbs is good for CNN.
In other words, CNN intentionally directed the Republicans' debate to advance its own interests. Make immigration a bigger issue and you've made a bigger audience for Dobbs.
That's corruption, and it's why the Republican candidates had to spend more than half an hour "debating" an issue on which their differences are essentially marginal -- and, more important, why GOP voters had to sit and wait, mostly in vain, for the issues that really concern them to be discussed.
Rutten (not nearly finished) also accuses CNN of "intellectual venality" in choosing questions designed to create "moments of conventional television conflict." In this regard, Rutten cites to CNN's questions about gun control, which according to Rutten and his polling data "doesn't even show up in surveys of voters' concerns."
Rutten further bashes CNN for its emphasis on religion over policy, citing to CNN's:
... wickedness of using some crackpot's query about the candidates' stand on Biblical inerrancy to do something that's anathema in our system -- to probe people's individual religious consciences. American journalists quite legitimately ask candidates about policy issues -- say, abortion -- that might be influenced by their religious or philosophical convictions. We do not and should not ask them about those convictions themselves. It's nobody's business whether a candidate believes in the virgin birth, whether God gave an oral Torah to Moses at Sinai, whether the Buddha escaped the round of birth and rebirth or whether an angel appeared to Joseph Smith.
The latter point is relevant because CNN's noxious laundering of this question through the goofy YouTube mechanism quite clearly was designed to embarrass Mitt Romney -- who happens to be a Mormon -- and, secondarily, to help Mike Huckabee -- who, as a Baptist minister, had a ready answer, and who happens to be television's campaign flavor of the month.
Rutten states that CNN's failure to properly screen the questioners "pales" in comparison to its other failures. Rutten concludes that CNN, having "failed in its responsibilities to the political process," should be excluded from future presidential debates.
The entire article is an interesting juxtaposition of Rutten's scathing rebuke of CNN (with which most conservative would agree) based upon Rutten's own prioritization of the importance of various issues (with which most conservatives would disagree).
It is also remarkable to see one of the nation's most liberal newspapers directly attack one of the nation's most liberal cable news outlets. It is increasingly clear that CNN has done irreparable damage to itself with its debate debacle.