LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- For those University of Nevada students who wanted to think outside the box of the large progressive-friendly magnetic poetry set CNN had provided near the site of last week's Democratic debate, the network also built an official "graffiti wall" upon which deep thoughts could be transmitted to the masses with several bright Sharpie markers.
Framed by scribbled pontifications such as I may suck at Calc, but I can add to 7 trillion, Black Votes Were Not Counted! (Florida 2000), and I'm 18 and finally get to vote for Obama!, the graffiti wall center pled for several hours, in large block letters, Please, no planted questions...That means you Hillary! In the Rebel Yell, UNLV's biweekly campus newspaper, CNN Washington Bureau Chief David Bohrman commiserated: "Nobody wants or expects planted questions," he said. "We booked the crowd and we pretty much know what their interests are. We think we've eliminated any plants."
Now, how a network's "pretty much" knowing what the audience members' "interests" are before allowing them into the debate hall is supposed to allay fears over "plants" is fairly mysterious, since, by definition, individuals pre-screened for their political leanings are plants. And, as blogger Doug Ross's quick, impressive research suggests, planted questioners may ultimately be of more immediate concern than planted questions.
At any rate, in the wake of UNLV student Maria Luisa's "diamonds or pearls" finale -- "Do you prefer diamonds or pearls?" she asked Hillary Clinton -- to the Ordinary People segment of last week's Democratic debate, and her subsequent MySpace repudiation of her own question as one of many "pre-planned and censored" by CNN, Bohrman's Rebel Yell declaration has achieved a entirely new level of irony. Not quite as ironic as, say, calling yourself "The Most Trusted Name in News" while "keeping to yourself" the atrocities of a tyrannical butcher, but impressive gall nonetheless.
Luisa's easy invocation of censorship is more than a bit hyperbolic, more so, even, than the sadly predictable lefty critique over at Daily Kos that the question focused on Hillary's "appearance and devotion to consumerism." After all, the "diamonds or pearls" question was one of several Luisa submitted to CNN producers, who, in turn, chose it over what she assures us was a brilliant query on the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. The producers even offered the opportunity to back out of asking it, but, as she explained to the New York Times, "Because I was on national TV, I felt hesitant, but then I felt like, 'Oh my God, I'm on national TV, I'll just ask it.''
A young woman embarrassing herself by asking her own silly question out of a self-professed desire to be on "national TV" is not a convincing case of censorship. Luisa had her chance and the joke fell flat. If the entire country had responded with one great appreciative giggle, Luisa would almost certainly not be crying censorship and making ridiculous statements to the New York Times like, "The media should be more democratic and be better able to reflect our democratic process."
Yes, the girl who asked Hillary the "diamonds or pearls" question during a televised debate in front of more than four million viewers is now explaining to us what is wrong with our democracy, which in turn, oddly enough, explains to us what is wrong with our democracy. A more impressive stand against inanity was possible. Instead of bellyaching Ralph Nader-style to the New York Times, for example, Luisa could have agreed to ask her stupid question and then, once the microphone was safely in hand, asked the question she wanted to. What was CNN going to do? Put her on a plane to Pakistan to be interrogated by the ISI?
Collude one day, complain the next: A new formula for instant celebrity.
THE MARIA LUISA INCIDENT comes quickly on the heels of what will doubtless be known in its movie-of-the-week incarnation as Plantgate: The Beginning, a sordid tale in which idealistic Grinnell College student Muriel Gallo-Chasanoff was prodded by a Clinton staffer to ask a question about the long-term effects of global warming at an Iowa campaign event.
Like Luisa, Gallo-Chasanoff only later ran to the Scarlet & Black, Grinnell College's version of the Rebel Yell, with accusations of "canned" questions, leading to an exclusive interview with -- drum roll, please -- CNN during which the student angelically mused that she was pulling back the Wizard of Wellesley's curtain, "just so that people could know the truth."
Again, as great and terrible as the pressure necessary to coerce a liberal college student into asking a question about global warming must certainly have been, standing up for truth in the moment -- "Mrs. Clinton, your staffer wanted me to ask a question about global warming, but what I really wanted to know is..." -- would have carried a little more weight. Instead, as the video clearly shows, Gallo-Chasanoff happily supplicated in the moment. "It seems silly, but it really just didn't occur to me what the implications could be until a long time afterward," Gallo-Chasanoff told CNN.
ALAS, SADLY FOR THESE two wayward young women, the most substantial implication of this dual storm over planted questions is that the participant and victim roles are equally cherished by those constantly touted as our future leaders. Neither the Clinton campaign nor CNN, for all their flaws, are in the business of creating Manchurian questioners. Luisa and Gallo-Chasanoff programmed themselves, and now, moments after deprogramming, they want to lecture the nation about truth and the state of democracy?
Sergeant Raymond Shaw certainly never had it so easy.
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