CNN: Modulating the Debate
November 11, 2003 10:48 AM   Subscribe

"Mac or PC" question planted at the Rock the Vote debate. After much ridicule and criticism over her question, Brown University student Alexandra Trustman has written an Op-Ed to the campus Daily Herald explaining that CNN planted the question with her so they could "modulate the event" in order to keep the debate "light-hearted" making it easier for "the candidates to relate to a younger audience." Trustman, feeling that the question CNN gave her was not relevant, wrote a different, and more relevant she thought, question on "how, if elected, the candidates would use technology in their administrations." The executive producer told her just to read the card they had given her.

Howard Kurtz reports today that CNN regrets getting caught the producer's actions.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood (45 comments total)
dont build up your part , daahling.
posted by sgt.serenity at 11:03 AM on November 11, 2003

I wonder if the "who would you party with" question was similarly encouraged by the producer?
posted by gregb1007 at 11:05 AM on November 11, 2003

I think it's a perfectly valid question. No fucking way I'm voting for a mac user.

posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:07 AM on November 11, 2003

the really funny, absolutely hilarious thing here is that there are americans who would take seriously something titled "rock the vote". i don't think you people have any idea the extent to which you have been mtv-washed. 'rock the vote' once again cuts to the heart of the american political process. what was it last time? yeah, it was 'boxers or briefs'!
posted by quonsar at 11:08 AM on November 11, 2003

While I'm upset that the question was planted, and I feel sorry that she was chosen to ask a stupid question like that, I think she chickened out. She certainly could have asked her own question when her camera time came. What would they have done - shot her down with their elite CNN snipers?
posted by starvingartist at 11:09 AM on November 11, 2003

that's the tabloidization of TV news for you

it's kind of sad, actually that after 1992's saddest moment (the infamous boxers or briefs question, again asked by a student) there's this strange electronic-media compulsion to turn q&a's with Presidential candidates into silly irrelevant shows. of course, some hard-nosed coverage of politics would of course create the opportunity for actual questions, and much embarrassment. better keep things light, who cares if 70% of Americans think that Saddam was involved in 9-11 and more than 60 % think that WMDs have actually been discovered in Iraq.
PC vs MAC is the real burning question.

the producer, sadly, was doing what constitutes conventional wisdom in the business -- keep things lively, quotable, "cool".
hence, shallow coverage.
just keep things lively, use short words and, in case of emergency, fly a big Stars And Stripes in the screen's corner

on preview: q's right
posted by matteo at 11:09 AM on November 11, 2003

The way I read it, she had the option to either ask the [dumb] question or not participate at all. She chose to participate. People brought her to task for asking a dumb question. Now she's whining about it.
posted by signal at 11:11 AM on November 11, 2003

quonsar, for someone living in Michigan you can't call Americans "you people". it seems sort of disingenuous.
posted by xmutex at 11:20 AM on November 11, 2003

there are americans who would take seriously something titled "rock the vote"

Xmutex. I think Quonsar was using "you people" to refer to only those americans that would consider Rock The Vote[tm]
a serious endeavor. I know actually reading a comment to the point of full comprehension before responding is no fun, but can lead to a more productive debate.

Metafilter: What we have here is a failure to communicate.
posted by jester69 at 11:25 AM on November 11, 2003

Hmm, I agree with those in this thread who say that she should have gone ahead and asked the question she wanted to ask. But I'm also glad she ratted on CNN's stupid orchestration of this event. It'll do CNN some good to take some flak for dumbing down a program.

Moreover, a Mac IS a Personal Computer.
posted by orange swan at 11:28 AM on November 11, 2003

I don't blame CNN. They were just trying to add some Zazz to the debate. You know, Zazz! Zing! Zork! Kapowza!

Call it what you want, in any language it spells mazuma in the bank!
posted by trigfunctions at 11:35 AM on November 11, 2003

ok matteo, you're scaring me now.
posted by quonsar at 11:37 AM on November 11, 2003

I think it's better that she wimped out. If she had asked the question she wanted to ask, there would be no story here. It's not like the candidates are going to give a serious answer anyway. At least this way it throws light on the news as reality television problem.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:38 AM on November 11, 2003

The student who asked the most ridiculed question at CNN's "Rock the Vote" debate last week -- "Macs or PCs?" -- says it wasn't her idea.

Yeah, but did she reveal this simply because she became the butt of a joke? She should have asked her own question. This will hardly hurt CNN.
posted by LouReedsSon at 12:04 PM on November 11, 2003

I would have hoped that such a liberal student body, from a school that in the very school catalog advocates intellectual freedom, would have reserved judgment on a situation and person it knew little if nothing about.

So, let me get this right: she's cloaked herself in the mantle of intellectual freedom as a sort of defense. Apparently the fact that people didn't KNOW it was a planted question meant they had no right to criticize her. Oh, and lip-syncing a CNN producer's question counts as "participation."

posted by coelecanth at 12:06 PM on November 11, 2003

She should have stood up and asked whatever question she really wanted to.

How was the debate? any good? I've been getting more and more bored with them as they go on.
posted by amberglow at 12:13 PM on November 11, 2003

Please limit yourself to the provided questions because the candidates only have access to the prepared answers.

Thank you.
posted by rushmc at 12:13 PM on November 11, 2003

What's not being reported is that the other question the producer wanted someone to ask was:

"Dude, WTF?"
posted by briank at 12:20 PM on November 11, 2003

What she should have asked:

"When you wash your ass, how far in do you stick your finger?"
posted by mischief at 12:30 PM on November 11, 2003

I'm a little surprised that her rationale for asking the stupid pre-prepared question -- once she realized she had been hoodwinked -- was because she had given her word.... I mean sure she said she'd ask a question but don't you get some sort of backdoor out of making a promise if it turns out you hadn't agreed to what you thought you'd agreed to? I'm pretty sure that's how it plays out legally. It doesn't seem to me that honorable that she "kept her promise" to CNN.... Was the show live? Was there really any chance she could have asked the question she had wanted ask, when all was said and done?
posted by jessamyn at 12:30 PM on November 11, 2003

CNN: The People Magazine of TV news
posted by milnak at 12:33 PM on November 11, 2003

If the fact that CNN kept hush about the atrocities in Iraq to appease Hussein didn't sink the network this sure as hell isn't.
posted by Mick at 12:40 PM on November 11, 2003

How do I get me one of them CNN producer jobs?
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:43 PM on November 11, 2003

eh, don't be so hard on Rock the Vote. When I was a college lad it opened my eyes to the voting process, which I had previously scoffed at.

Of course, the 2000 election has me scoffing again . . .
posted by archimago at 12:56 PM on November 11, 2003

/joins orange swan in the 'a mac IS a PC' corner, brings own pint.
posted by dabitch at 1:06 PM on November 11, 2003

ok matteo, you're scaring me now.

posted by matteo at 1:12 PM on November 11, 2003

Vote, consider yourself ROCKED! WHOOOOO!
posted by Stan Chin at 1:29 PM on November 11, 2003

Anybody see the part of Rock the Vote where each candidate did a short film showcasing his candidacy? Assuming the Daily Show wasn't making these up out of whole cloth, there are officially now several shared winners of the "Pandering To The Kids with my 'Phat Beats' and Quick-Cut Cinematography" Award.

I defy any American to watch these and then to answer Miguel's question in the affirmative.

P.S. OMG, these are on the web. (Of course, you can vote for your favorite! Get it? You can VOTE!!!!)
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:38 PM on November 11, 2003

It's like CNN took a page out of "the Simpsons:"

Advisor: Little girl, do you think you can memorize this by dinnertime tomorrow?
Lisa: "Mr. Burns: your campaign seems to have the momentum of a runaway freight train. Why are you so popular?"
posted by fredosan at 1:49 PM on November 11, 2003

Really, this is an outrage. The issue isn't just generically the "infotainment" craze, it's the idea that nothing involving people under 30 could possibly be a serious political event. Just admitting that someone that age could be something more than cheap entertainment/comic relief is more than the over-40 crowd that run CNN could handle. It's the same blatant discrimination that goes on in terms of selective editing in newspapers: direct transcriptions always make people sound dumb. So what do they do? Directly transcribe high schoolers and college students, but edit out the umms and uuhs from older people.
posted by dagnyscott at 2:20 PM on November 11, 2003

thanks to supersexyFlanders, I now know where Wesley Clark stands on the Andre 3000/Big Boi rift, and will vote accordingly.
posted by eddydamascene at 2:23 PM on November 11, 2003

don't be so hard on Rock the Vote. When I was a college lad it opened my eyes to the voting process

that's what college was supposed to do.
posted by quonsar at 3:13 PM on November 11, 2003

You mean everything we see on TeeVee isn't as it appears?

I wonder whether our resident Bush apologists would care to compare this horrible, major CNN gaff with some of the other understandable and minor media manipulation we've been seeing:

Frank Rich writes, "Ah, the dazzling pyrotechnics of 'shock and awe.' The finality of the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue. The thrill of that re-enactment of 'Top Gun.' The sense of closure provided by the banner reading 'Mission Accomplished.' Like all wars of the TV age, the war in Iraq is not just a clash of armies, but a succession of iconic images. Those who control the images, and the narratives they encapsulate, control history. At least until a new reality crashes in. ... The Bush administration tries to shut down pictures as effectively as it has stonewalled Congressional committees and the bipartisan commissions looking into intelligence failures surrounding 9/11." Source: New York Times, November 9, 2003 [via Spin of the Day]

Gotta run....great TeeVee lineup tonight....isn't Fox/Drudge TV running the "Jessica Lynch True Story of Heroic American Troops Taking Time Off From Destroying Weapons of Mass Destruction To Shoot Their Way Into Heavily Fortified Hospitals Prime Time Special"? (background score by Toby Keith)
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 4:06 PM on November 11, 2003

The blame for this should be placed on CNN where it belongs. Miss Trustman is a student barely out of her teens. Perhaps she made a mistake out of a naive desire to be "true to her word," but if that's her biggest mistake, I wish more people would make that kind of mistake. CNN should get the blame for putting her in that kind of situation. It's so easy to ride a high horse and blame the college kid, but CNN is who's truly guilty here.
posted by jonp72 at 4:50 PM on November 11, 2003

quonsar, matteo AND Steve_at_Linnwood all on the same side in a NewsFilter thread? That's either an historic occasion or a sign of the apocalypse.

You mean everything we see on TeeVee isn't as it appears?
foldy, what happened in the 20 minutes after your 'London' comment?
posted by wendell at 7:59 PM on November 11, 2003

I was in DC when the 'boxer vs. briefs' question was asked and the girl who asked it was a daughter of a local reporter with HUGE hair....said reporter was 'so proud' of her daughter.

Hence my reflective hate of most reporters. Or people for that matter. Hell, most everything, now that I think about it.

I am a proponent of Sturgeon's Law.
posted by Dagobert at 6:14 AM on November 12, 2003

wendell, I think we can add a rushmc to the mix, too. Now, where is hama7?
posted by taz at 7:01 AM on November 12, 2003

Howie Kurtz is a corporate media whore.
He doesn't regret it.
posted by nofundy at 8:01 AM on November 12, 2003

So who used Macs and who used PCs? People need to know.
posted by timothompson at 10:01 AM on November 12, 2003

This is asinine. Maybe it's a good thing to bring candidates down to earth from the rarified level some seem to inhabit, but Lord, this sure as hell ain't it. Shame on CNN (nothing particularly new there tho,) and shame on Trustman for not only doing it, but whining about it afterwards. Hey, if you act like a tool of some producer wanting to make you look lightweight, jusy so you can be on national TV, don't complain when people look at you that way. Damn Brown students.
posted by Snyder at 12:18 PM on November 12, 2003

Don't blame people for being used. Not everyone is as jaded as the people here. She wasn't informed of the true nature of her appearance, and when she was, she went through with it our of a sense of duty, not a selfish desire to be on television. Her reaction afterwards merely answers the uninformed criticism which she later received.
posted by dagnyscott at 9:13 PM on November 12, 2003

Well what the hell was the answer!?
posted by delmoi at 9:23 AM on November 13, 2003

Oh come on, the whole "I had to stick to my word" thing is just an excuse, she did it because she wanted to be on TV, to be part of the whole thing. Not because she was doign anyone a "favor".

And yes, she could have backed out at the last moment and asked any question she wanted when the cameras were on her.

But, no big deal IMO. There's no point in being totaly serious the whole time.
posted by delmoi at 9:46 AM on November 13, 2003

I read "...the opportunity to be involved in Rock the Vote..." as "...the opportunity to be seen on TV." I mean, she was already involved, just by being there. I may be reading to much into this, but that was my gut reaction.
posted by Snyder at 2:46 PM on November 13, 2003

The school may pride itself on "open mindedness and good journalism" but both phrases do not apply to you in this debacle. Your facile attempt in the article to justify yourselve belies the fact that you were no more than an entertainer for CNN, not a journalist. Please spare us from from anymore spin. (sic)

I thought this comment left at the Brown Herald site was fairly insightful. The young lady was a newspaper staff member. Presumably the Herald made sure she understood the journalistic code of ethics before she was allowed to write her first article. First, she probably shouldn't have been participating in the event. According to theory, reporters aren't allowed to make news, only to report it. Second, she didn't state her affiliation when she took the floor. At the very least, this was professionally (whether you'd say college newspapers are more professional or amateur operations, professionalism is at least their nominal goal) requisite. Third, a reporter asking a scripted question in an event which is reasonably assumed by all to be unscripted has clearly, clearly made a mistake. Fourth, reporters are not allowed to write editorials or opinion articles! Again, she is making the news, not reporting it.

I'd say several things are going on here: Ms. Trustman is a bad reporter; the Brown Daily Herald either shouldn't have hired her, dropped the ball training her, or should currently be disciplining her; and the Brown Daily Herald has blatantly dropped the ball in allowing her to write an Op-Ed article. Bad marks go to everyone. Granted, I know she could be as young as sixteen or seventeen if she is really a college freshman, but she's not getting any pity from me-- if she can't hack her duties she should resign her position or be penalized for it by the Herald. And, of course, I know, stuff like this goes on every day. Jayson Blair will someday report again, etc. Doesn't make it right, though.

posted by halonine at 9:23 PM on November 14, 2003

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