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Two stories behind the alleged Clinton debate success

November 16, 2007 |  6:08 pm

A couple of intriguing--maybe even disturbing--postscripts to last night's Democratic debate. It wasn't so much a debate as a chaotic uncoordinated interview of a gang of candidates in front of a Las Vegas crowd accustomed to prize fights and cheering for their favorite (Hillary Clinton) and booing the bad guy (John Edwards, when he criticized their favorite).

If the point was to elicit illumination, the transcript shows more interruptions than anything else. The low point--and it's a very revealing low point--came right at the end when Maria Luisa Parra-Sandoval, a UNLV student, asked Clinton if she preferred diamonds or pearls. Talk about a softball question. It's not exactly "boxers or briefs," but it's close.

True to form, Clinton straddled the answer, saying she likes them both. We sure don't want to offend the pearl crowd, do we? But what the heck does that have to do with picking a president? The answer, of course, is absolutely nothing.

And the truth came out today when CNN, which is widely believed among Clinton opponents and others to favor the New York senator's candidacy, admitted that a producer allegedly seeking to end the "debate" on a light note gave the question to the student. (Does giving a question to a student to ask Hillary Clinton ring a bell for anyone?)

As an embarrassed Luisa explained on her MySpace today, everybody was told to submit days ago a list of questions, including light-hearted ones, for approval by CNN. Because of her interest and previous research into Nevada's Yucca Mountain as a potential repository for nuclear waste, she wanted to ask Clinton about that. (Marc Ambinder provides the actual question Luisa wanted to ask here.)

But at the last second a producer told Luisa that Yucca had already been discussed and instructed her to ask her pearls-diamonds question.

Any candidate, especially a female front-runner, would rather provide a non-answer to a jewelry question than discuss how to safely store nuclear waste in a desert state that doesn't see its future built around becoming a nuclear dump.

Now, Luisa has been subjected to criticism from friends and strangers about asking a dumb question. On her MySpace, she wrote: "Every question from the audience was pre-planned and censored. That's...

what the media does. See, the media chose what they wanted, not what the people or audience really wanted. That's politics; that's reality...If you want me to explain to you how the media works, I am more than happy to do so. But do not judge me or my integrity based on that question."

And while we're talking about integrity, what in the world was CNN thinking when it booked its post-debate "analysts" with Anderson Cooper?  One was J.C. Watts, the former GOP congressman from Oklahoma. Fine, a token Republican. Another was Gloria Borger, an experienced pro.

Here were the other two "analysts": James Carville and David Gergen. That's right, two former aides of Bill Clinton's are supposed to "analyze" the performance of the candidates opposing their friend's wife.

Here's how Anderson Cooper introduced them: "Let's dig deeper with the best political team on television with former presidential advisor to Democrats and Republicans David Gergen who joins me along with former Bill Clinton advisor and CNN Political Contributor James Carville."

Cooper neglected to mention that Carville wrote an e-mail fundraising letter for Hillary Clinton on Feb. 22--"Hillary is the strongest candidate Democrats have." And on "Meet the Press" last June 3 Carville announced that he was not only a contributor to the Hillary Clinton campaign, but he was going to vote for her too. Now, that's the kind of open mind you want analyzing her opponents.

So it's not too shocking that Politico.com today reported that these former Clinton employees had this to say about Hillary: "David Gergen had opened the coverage by declaring: 'The fire seemed to go out of Obama, and she regained her stride.' James Carville, a Clinton supporter, added: 'Senator Clinton's people … have to be pretty pleased tonight that they certainly reversed a trend.'"

Good news for the Clinton people from some other Clinton people.

A campaign worker for one of her opponents shrugged today. "That's what we're up against in the media," he said.

--Andrew Malcolm

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