CNN admitted fault on Wednesday after being accused of failing to disclose Democratic Party ties of several attendees who were able to ask 2020 presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders questions during the network’s town hall on Monday.
“Though we said at the beginning of the Town Hall that the audience was made up of Democrats and Independents, we should have more fully identified any political affiliations,” a CNN spokesperson told Fox News.
The CNN event followed other recent town halls featuring Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif; Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn; and potential independent candidate, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. But unlike those town halls, many participants who posed policy questions to Sanders appear to have political ties, which was first reported by Paste Magazine.
Paste writer Jacob Weindling questioned whether CNN stacked the audience against the Democratic Socialist by not disclosing the background of some of the participants.
Paste Magazine pointed out that at least four attendees have deep roots in the Democratic Party and the D.C. lobby, and alleged the way CNN described the participants either downplayed their background or did not disclose such ties at all.
Tara Ebersole, who asked about Sanders’ plan for universal health care, was introduced by CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer as a “former biology professor,” but her reported LinkedIn page claims her current job is chair of the Baltimore County Democratic Party.
Yunjung Seo, who was described by CNN as a “George Washington student,” is currently an intern for the Democratic fundraising organization, the Katz Watson Group, and was previously a campaign fellow for Hillary Clinton for America according to her reported LinkedIn page. Her question was about how Sanders plans on alleviating student debt.
However, the arguably toughest question of the night was asked by Shadi Nasab, who was referred to as an “American University student” but is also an intern for the left-wing group Public Policy, according to her reported LinkedIn page.
“As we saw in the 2018 midterms, the Democratic Party has become more female, more racially diverse, and younger in age. How can a voter like me feel confident in your ability to represent the party, especially given that your response to sexual harassment allegations during your campaign is that you were ‘a little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case to be elected as president,’" Nasab asked.
Abena McAllister, who was described by Blitzer as “active in Maryland Democrat Party,” was listed by CNN’s chyron as a “mother of two.” However, she is apparently the chair of the Charles County Democratic Central Committee.
Paste Magazine’s Weindling thought the questions were “completely normal” until he did a little digging.
"You cannot help but wonder about the intent behind this, as well as CNN’s role in selecting this questioner while not disclosing her workplace."
“Now that it has been revealed that the question was asked by an intern at a major lobbying firm, you cannot help but wonder about the intent behind this, as well as CNN’s role in selecting this questioner while not disclosing her workplace,” Weindling wrote. “If it was just this one questioner, we could chalk it up to a mistake, or an acknowledgement that CNN reasonably didn't believe that an intern needed to disclose her workplace. But this wasn't just one questioner. There were a bunch of audience members who are far more active in politics than CNN disclosed.”
Mediaite’s Caleb Ecarma pointed out why some prominent Democrats might not want Sanders to come off as favorable during the CNN event.
“Sanders has been harshly criticized by leading Democrats for supposedly trying to spoil the party’s primary election, given his label as an independent and perception as an outsider,” Ecarma wrote.
The Young Turks – a progressive digital news organization – spent significant time breaking down the situation. Host Ana Kasparian said “it appears that CNN did not disclose the true identities of the individuals asking the questions,” calling the network’s behavior “unethical.”
“Viewers should know who these individuals are,” Kasparian said.
Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur admitted he didn’t know if the participants did not fully disclose their identity to CNN or if CNN purposely withheld information from viewers. But Uygur said there is an “unfortunate history” of CNN being unfair to “one particular candidate,” which he said is Sanders.
During the 2016 election, the network took a lot of heat after it was discovered that Donna Brazile, who was a commentator at the time, leaked questions from a town hall event with the Clinton campaign.