CNN’s crummy week continued on Thursday when liberal Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple questioned why the struggling network is “making things easier” for Democrats who plan to participate in the upcoming debate.
CNN announced that its two-night event on July 30-31 won’t feature the news-making, show-of-hands questions that have been the highlight of past debates on MSNBC and Fox News. CNN will also punish any candidate who constantly interrupts by reducing their time, and down-the-line questions won’t be asked, either.
“What?” Wemple wrote. ”Even if CNN decided that it doesn’t like the theater of such questions; even if CNN decided that it doesn’t want its debates to make headlines; even if CNN decided that it didn’t want to put the candidates on the spot regarding contemporary controversies; even if CNN decided that it didn’t want good ratings; even if CNN decided that, somehow, these sorts of questions were journalistically corrupt, why would it broadcast this limitation in a public release?”
Wemple went on to ask why CNN would "crimp its moderators… plucking a wrench from their toolboxes?”
The media blogger – whose face appears on the coffee mug awarded to the weekly “Final Exam” winner during “Tucker Carlson Tonight” -- then listed questions that he asked CNN: “Was that the idea of CNN or of the candidates/DNC? Did anyone other than CNN suggest this restriction? Why limit the sorts of questions that your moderators may ask? Aren’t yes-or-no questions sometimes critical for journalism?”
“It was a decision made by CNN,” a CNN spokesperson told the Post.
“Questions seeking a show of hands or one-word answers, to be sure, come off as cheesy stunts made for cable news. They also have a knack of focusing a debate and pushing blathering politicians off their talking points. Which of you would use military force against Iran — yes or no? Which of you would sign such-and-such a bill? The Democratic candidates prepping for Detroit should feel relieved that they won’t have to contend with any such queries,” Wemple wrote.
While Wemple hammered CNN for going easy on Democratic candidates, DePauw University professor and media critic Jeffrey McCall has criticized other elements of the upcoming debate, such as selecting "CNN Tonight" host Don Lemon to moderate alongside Dana Bash and Jake Tapper.
“CNN is planning a live lottery [to determine the lineup], which looks like a game-show gimmick. CNN is also putting commentator Don Lemon on the panel of questioners, which opens up CNN to the same kind of criticism NBC got when it put Rachel Maddow on the debate panel,” McCall said.
CNN insists Lemon is an anchor, but media watchdogs and even some CNN staffers are aware that he offers his own opinions on a nightly basis and debate moderators are historically nonpartisan.
“To pretend he’s not an opinion host is lunacy,” a CNN employee told Fox News.
CNN’s upcoming debates aren’t the only things that have been criticized this week, as the network’s on-going ratings issues have caught the attention from everyone from rank-and-file employees to President Trump.
A dismal second quarter was followed up with “the network’s lowest average since 2015” when it comes to primetime viewers among the key demographic of adults age 25-54 during the first week of Q3, according to TVNewser.
“The marketplace is speaking to CNN and CNN has not been listening. The ratings struggles at CNN reflect that news consumers are losing confidence in the organization. The primetime lineup has failed to deliver ratings and the heavy ideological thrust of prime time could well be dampening viewership for the more newsy daytime shows,” McCall said. “CNN may have overplayed its Trump fascination over the last two years, particularly in prime time. Even CNN founder Ted Turner chimed in last fall suggesting that CNN needed a more balanced agenda.”