David Zurawik

Some belated praise for CNN's debate partnership with Tea Party

I am only about 2,000 news cycles behind with this post. But I was working on another project since Monday and did not have time to write about the GOP candidates debate hosted by CNN and the Tea Party Express.

I thought I would get over it, but I continue to be troubled by the criticism CNN received in some quarters for partnering with the Tea Party to bring this debate to a prime time audience. I am troubled by the ideological nature of the criticism, as well as the hypocrisy and less than stellar reporting that characterized some of it.


Look, I am not going to go on and on with my explanation as to why CNN should have been commended rather than criticized for partnering with the Tea Party, but let me just offer a piece of it.

One of the primary roles of the media is to bring citizens reliable information that they can use to make informed choices in their lives, and didn't CNN (with the help of the Tea Party) do just that with this partnership? Doesn't almost anyone who watched and paid attention Monday night know more about, say, Texas Gov. Rick Perry than she or he did before the debate?


And come on all you Perry haters, weren't you happy to see some of that information about his relationship with the drug company Merck trotted out before millions of viewers?

Furthermore, don't most of us agree that bringing more voices into the mainstream debate, a.k.a. the national conversation, is a good thing?

And didn't CNN do just that by partnering with the Tea Party?

Oh, but wait, we want only certain kinds of voices brought in -- not those that groups on the far left characterize as "far right" for their own political reasons. No, we have to silence those "far right" voices and never, ever lend them any legitimacy, because media groups like FAIR call them "far right."

That's what the criticism of CNN was really about: trying to enforce a liberal orthodoxy and punishing the least biased, most credible cable news channel on TV for not bowing to an unstated liberal bias.

In a piece headlined, "CNN's Tea Party partnership: 'odd' at best, 'unethical' at worst," the Cutline blog, uses an "author" to criticize CNN.

The Cutline's Dylan Stableford sets up his critique of CNN's decision to partner with the Tea Party Express by writing: "That decision put CNN on shaky ethical ground, author Scott Martelle argued..."

Stableford, then quotes Martelle who wrote, "A major cable network is teaming up with a political splinter group as an (apparent) equal partner in a televised event. CNN didn't team up with political progressives, who helped shape the 2008 presidential campaign, during that election cycle. Yet here it is proudly teaming up with the Tea Partiers (who, they keep telling us, aren't even an identifiable group, but a shared mindset). My guess is CNN is more interested in wresting viewers from Fox than in maintaining its own credibility."


Because that statement wasn't properly fact checked, Stableford later had to add this "update."

"UPDATE: A Cutline reader points out that in 2008, CNN did, in fact, co-host a Democratic primary debate with a progressive group--the Congressional Black Caucus Political Education and Leadership Institute, in South Carolina."

Some might call that a correction rather than an "update," and wonder why Stableford quoted the source he did in the first place making such a harsh claim about CNN allegedly not caring about its credibility without fact checking it.

The act-like-you-know attitude and bias in that quote screamed for fact checking.

But my favorite tap dance and curtsy to the left came from the New York Times in its piece headlined: "For debate partners, an unusual pairing."

Here's the lead:


In the pantheon of strange political bedfellows, CNN and the Tea Party could go down as one of the oddest pairings since James Carville and Mary Matalin.

And here are  the two paragraphs that showed the bias:

But the CNN debate on Monday was the first event hosted jointly by a major news organization and a Tea Party group. And their partnership left some questioning whether the network had gone too far in reaching for centrist credibility.

"Is there really a need for another national cable news channel devoted to promoting far-right elements within the Republican Party?" the liberal media watchdog group FAIR said Monday in an e-mail alert to its members in which it labeled the Tea Party "a controversial political group."

Is FAIR really the best you can come up with to support your claim that "their partnership left some questioning whether the network had gone too far in reaching for centrist credibility?"

I praise CNN for its commitment to "centrist credibility." And I will tell you something else, it is only groups on the left who criticize channels like CNN (and analysts like me) for centrist aspirations -- never the right.

Make of that what you will.