On Wednesday night's Inside Politics, Bernard Shaw asked Wolf Blitzer to explain the format of their Late Edition "town meeting" with Hillary Clinton at 10 PM ET at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Blitzer replied: "The format is open ended. I'll start off with a few questions of my own, some hopefully news-worthy kinds of questions, then we're opening it up. There will be about 300, almost 400 people here and they'll ask whatever is on their mind, whether it's issues involving New York state, national issues, or international issues. Remember, a Senator from New York - every Senator deals with all these kinds of issues, and so I'm sure there will be a wide range of questions, and if necessary I will follow up and make sure that the necessary follow up is there as well."
Blitzer was dishonest. It wasn't "open-ended." Buffalo News Washington Bureau Chief Douglas Turner reported that university officials submitted to CNN all the names of students attending to CNN, and that "Questions from university students have been screened by CNN staff members." University administrators gave CNN students' phone numbers. One student, Eric Judka, told the News that CNN contacted him and asked if he would like to ask a question. "They said they would be contacting me between 4 and 5 (p.m.) to ask me the nature of the question."
In a conversation with the MRC, Turner explained that Blitzer and other CNN officials didn't return phone calls for 24 hours before he talked to spokeswoman Kelly Keane. He called their behavior "slippery," especially CNN's calls for student questions on Tuesday afternoon for a Wednesday night broadcast. Although no one found evidence that Hillary received questions in advance, Turner suggested "That's an embarrassingly long period of time for mischief to occur."
In today's New York Times, Blitzer said "Mrs. Clinton had not requested, and CNN would not have permitted her to have, any control over what questions would be asked or who would be admitted to the hall. Mr. Blitzer said that CNN reviewed questions from audience members only to ensure variety and to avoid repetition, and screened the audience to make certain that it included only registered voters who live in New York." (In fairness to CNN, the ideological tilt of questions was fairly balanced - but there were zero questions about any Clinton scandal.)
In comments before, during, and after the show, Blitzer never explained to viewers that the questions and questioners were screened in advance. Today's Amy Paulson report on cnn.com doesn't include it either. A Nexis search found CNN analyst Bill Schneider appeared once and Blitzer appeared twice this morning without mentioning the screening.
CNN's Frank Buckley ended a story early this morning with a very vague reference that "his [Giuliani's] campaign, in a statement issued earlier, described Mrs. Clinton's event as carefully scripted, totally contrived and utterly fake."
All reporters, with the exception of an Associated Press reporter and photographer, were excluded by CNN from the auditorium, including the SUNY-Buffalo student newspaper. In all of the overnight dispatches filed, AP's Marc Humbert never mentioned the screened questions or the exclusion of his colleagues. He did find space for a man who disliked Clinton to praise Hillary: "She's hot." - Tim Graham