CNN came to play for its second debate. While its GOP predecessor appeared like a Major League ball game, critics assumed this one would be more like softball.
They were wrong.
CNN started the first Democratic debate off with fastballs and even a few brushback pitches. Shockingly, liberal host Anderson Cooper mostly performed well – perhaps making Vice President Joe Biden happy he decided to watch the debate at home, rather than join in.
But it wouldn’t be CNN without a tilt to the left on key liberal issues – such as illegal immigration, abortion and the war in Iraq.
It’s hard to even call it a debate when some candidates filibuster and others are called for time almost instantly. Cooper was very uneven in his moderating, either unable or unwilling to cut off Clinton and Sanders.
CNN also wildly skewed the debate times, giving Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders vastly more time than their competitors. CNN continued right after the debate.
CNN’s chief political analyst Gloria Borger praised Clinton for having performed “extraordinarily well” and made herself “so adept at making herself the candidate of both experience and change.” In reality, both Clinton and Sanders probably helped themselves. Based on media and social media reaction, the other three were barely noticed.
Not only did CNN attack Sen. Bernie Sanders for voting against a previous immigration bill, it also entirely ignored the Planned Parenthood scandal. The only mention of that issue came from Clinton herself.
Cooper started off the night with a detailed a long list of Clinton flip-flops and asked Clinton: “Will you say anything to get elected?”
He followed up with two more questions to try to pin her down on her comments, forcing her to declare herself as a “progressive.”
It set the tone for the evening. He then held Sanders’s feet to the fire over his socialism.
Cooper later led into the issue of illegal immigration by discussing “undocumented immigrants.”
CNN panelist Juan Carlos Lopez then took an activist approach, asking, “Senator Sanders, in 2013 you voted for immigration reform. But in 2007 when the Democrats controlled Congress and the Bush White House was on board, you voted against it.”
He followed with, “Why should Latino voters trust you now when you left them at the altar at the moment when reform was very close?”
That spin wasn’t surprising. CNN picked two of the most liberal people it has on the network to anchor the Democratic debates – Cooper and anchor Don Lemon. Despite that, the network stuck to its strategy that had GOP candidates talk about Donald Trump and “fight with each other” 74 percent of the time.
The debate pitted the five declared Democratic candidates against one another. Former Secretary of State Clinton was joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described “Democratic socialist,” along with former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee.
Vice President Joe Biden, who is considering a run for the job, was nowhere to be found. The Gaffe Master himself might describe that absence as a “big f---ing deal.”
Not that most voters considered the debate to be a big deal. Fifty-seven percent weren’t even aware it was happening. And who could blame them with three of the candidates polling almost in negative numbers.
On some level it was almost funny. Four old guys joining an aging female friend for adventures in Casino Land sounds like the plot to the movie "Last Vegas," not the Democratic debate. Besides, with Morgan Freeman, at least "Last Vegas" had diversity.
The first Democratic debate was dubbed on the Internet as the “Very Old White People Debate.” That monochromatic reality was noticed on social media, as well.
Liberal filmmaker Michael Moore Tweeted, “Except there's no one on the stage who's under 50, there's no person of color & only one woman. That's not America on that stage. #DemDebate.”
It’s hard to even call it a "debate" when some candidates filibuster and others are called for time almost instantly.
Cooper was very uneven in his moderating, either unable or unwilling to cut off Clinton and Sanders.
Politico did a time tally and it shows why Jim Webb got so angry about his lack of time.
Hillary Clinton (26 minutes, 2 seconds) Bernie Sanders (26 minutes, 32 seconds) Martin O’Malley (15 minutes, 22 seconds) Jim Webb (14 minutes, 10 seconds) Lincoln Chafee (7 minutes, 32 seconds)
The Kumbaya chorus took over at the end, with O’Malley especially talking about how Democrats all got along and “we are moving to a more connected, generous and compassionate place and we need to speak to the goodness within our country.”
Apparently, Clinton didn’t notice since she listed several enemies she was proud to have: “In addition to the NRA, the health insurance companies, the drug companies, the Iranians, probably the Republicans.” So much for reaching across the aisle.
Clinton also repeatedly reminded viewers that she is a woman and that her gender was a good reason to vote for her.
Social Media Reaction
GOP candidate Donald Trump amused critics by Tweeting the debate. At one point, he asked, “Who is winning the debate so far (just last name)? #DemDebate.”
Suspended ESPN announcer and former baseball player Curt Schilling responded with a chilling one-word comment: “ISIS.”
He was far from the only celebrity to chime in.
On debate day, Hollywood’s Seth MacFarlane shared his love for all things Sanders. “Yes, I know we Hollywood liberals can be self-righteous, insufferable meatheads, but come on-- Bernie Sanders would make an A+ president.”
The obligatory Black Lives Matter debate question drew mixed results. CNN commentator Van Jones loved it. “Winner of the debate so far: #BLACKLIVESMATTER @CNN #CNN #DemDebate ... Congrats,” he wrote.
But BLM activist Deray Mckesson took the opposite view. “.@CNN, is there really only going to be one question about race tonight? #DemDebate.”
Host/managing editor of TV One's daily morning show, NewsOne Now, Roland Martin, found it amusing when Cooper asked Clinton about being in the 1 percent. He had an appropriate response that called out Cooper for his family wealth. “If I was @HillaryClinton, on that 1% Q I would have said, "Thanks, @andersoncooper. Say hi to your mom, Gloria Vanderbilt." LOL #DemDebate.”
GOP candidate former Gov. Mike Huckabee had one of the most-humorous comments. “I trust @BernieSanders with my tax dollars like I trust a North Korean chef with my labrador! #DemDebate.” It’s almost guaranteed to offend someone – Koreans, dog owners, chefs and, of course, journalists.
The CNN Set-Up
The network didn’t wait for the debate to spin, leading off with an Obama commercial that even media people criticized. CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller Tweeted: “Surprised. @CNN began debate running partisan video statement by Pres Obama urging Dems to build on his record. Sounded like a fundraiser.”
CNN had stacked the deck with two openly liberal, openly gay questioners. Cooper’s liberalism also has favored Clinton and has been used to bash the GOP. The CNN anchor once Clinton the “queen of compromise.”
He made news with a sexual joke accusing the GOP of being into “teabagging.”
Cooper was also part of the Clinton Global Initiative, the kind of connection liberals would usually make a stink about if it involved conservatives.
Cooper called the allegation “total bunk.”
Given how he has debased journalism with his New Year’s Eve appearances, it seems a little late to act aggrieved.
The premier Democratic debate of the 2016 campaign season, sponsored by CNN and Facebook, was held at the Wynn hotel and casino in Las Vegas. Cooper/Lemon were joined by correspondent Dana Bash and CNN en Español anchor Juan Carlos Lopez.
Dan Gainor is the Media Research Center's Vice President for Business and Culture. He writes frequently about media for Fox News Opinion. He can also be contacted on Facebook and Twitter as dangainor.