The biggest loser from last night’s Democratic debate (1/14/20) was CNN’s journalistic credibility.
CNN debates have been marked by a tendency to pit one candidate against another, American Gladiators-style (FAIR.org, 8/2/19), so it’s no surprise that the cable network took its own journalistically dubious “scoop” (CNN, 1/13/20)—about Bernie Sanders allegedly telling Elizabeth Warren in 2018 that “he did not believe a woman could win” a race against Donald Trump—and used it as the basis of questions to both Sanders and Warren at its pre–Iowa caucus debate in Des Moines (presented jointly with the Des Moines Register).
But it was less predictable that CNN would frame those questions in such a nakedly one-sided manner, with wording that presumed that the truth was known about what was really said in a disputed, year-old private conversation. “Senator Sanders,” began CNN political correspondent Abby Phillip:
Senator Warren confirmed in a statement, that in 2018 you told her that you did not believe that a woman could win the election. Why did you say that?
Phillip obviously knew that Sanders had unequivocally stated that he had not said that. But by inserting the word “confirmed” into the preface, she put Sanders in the position of someone denying reality—despite the fact that his alleged remark would contradict his public position going back 30 years. And immediately after getting Sanders to reiterate his statement that he never told Warren that a woman couldn’t win the election, Philip turned to Warren and asked: “Sen. Warren, what did you think when Sen. Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?”—a question premised on the assumption that Sanders had just lied about what he had said.