BAYHAM: CNN Goes CYA

In the unlikely event that there are folks in the journalism trade who agonize over the suspicion conservatives hold towards the Fourth Estate, CNN’s Candy Crowley did them no favors on Tuesday night.

TMZ, better known as the corner of the internet that acts as the archive of record for Kardashian bikini pics, managed to get their mitts on an internal CNN communiqué from network executive vice-president Mark Whitaker that reads like George W. Bush’s “Brownie, you’ve done a heck of a job” praise for the infamous ex-FEMA head after Katrina.

Whitaker opens up by asking fellow CNN employees to applaud Crowley for doing “a superb job under the most difficult circumstances imaginable.”

Really?

I thought the feminist wing of professional scribes had called assigning a female reporter to moderate the town hall debate demeaning?

ABC’s Carole Simpson, who moderated the first town hall-style presidential debate twenty years ago, said that having female reporters relegated to covering the town hall and vice-presidential debates, was “sexist” (her actual word for it) in advance of Crowley’s moderating her first presidential debate.

It’s ironic that Simpson would degrade her assignment from 1992, which featured three presidential candidates and proved to be a consequential debate when President George H.W. Bush infamously looked at his watch and added to his image of being disinterested with the hoi polloi.

So prior to the debate, Simpson more or less compared running a town hall debate to taking out the trash yet Crowley’s boss at CNN made it out as if she had climbed Mount Everest.

Whitaker continues: “She and her team had to select and sequence questions in a matter of hours, and then she had to deal with the tricky format, the nervous questioners, the aggressive debaters, all while shutting out the pre-debate attempts to spin and intimidate her.”

So with a debate that was to last 90 minutes divided by two candidates plus adjusting for different questioners, the veteran journalist not only had the burden of selecting just over a dozen questions but putting them in order with help from a staff assisting her with this Herculean task.

Oh the humanity.

Whitaker: “She pulled it off masterfully.”

Well Crowley pulled something off masterfully, but not being a good moderator.

The CNN reporter interrupted the Republican nominee for president twenty-eight times; the president only nine.

What was that compliment Whitaker paid Crowley again? “shutting out the pre-debate attempts to spin and intimidate her.”

So much for being the Atlantic Wall of debate moderators. Crowley not only lied down during Barack Obama’s constant interruptions of Mitt Romney, but she also “corrected” Romney while he was arguing with the president.

Crowley was either biased for or star-struck by the president. Perhaps she was too caught up with the thought of having the first dance at the annual “Nerd Prom”, formally known as the White House Correspondents Dinner.

At one point, Crowley started to sound like Dean Vernon Wormer from Animal House all but barking out “you’ll get your chance smart guy” when Romney insisted on having an opportunity to refute an Obama attack on his comments about the auto industry bailout.

Like the folks at the Delta Tau Chi house, Romney never did get his chance.

Whitaker continues: “The reviews on Candy’s performance have been overwhelmingly positive but Romney supporters are going after her on two points, no doubt because their man did not have as good a night as he had in Denver.”

OK- first, the talking heads at MSNBC don’t count as credible sources of praise and secondly, this “atta girl e-mail” is starting to sound like a Bill O’Reilly “Talking Points Memo.” With good reason.

Whitaker: “On legitimacy of Candy fact-checking Romney on Obama’s Rose Garden statement, it should be stressed that she was just stating a point of fact: Obama did talk about an act (or acts) of terror; no matter what you think he meant by that that at the time.”

This is revealing. First, as debate moderator, it’s not her job to “fact check”. She’s not there to correct the candidates; she’s there to ensure that they follow the established procedures/agreed upon rules of engagement. Apparently the news executive is as confused as the news reporter on the actual role of a debate moderator.

Crowley was not participating in a Sunday morning news show as a panelist but refereeing. And she did about as well with her first attempt at this as the NFL’s scab refs.

Secondly, Whitaker is basically admitting that Obama’s claim of calling the Benghazi attack an act of terrorism is bogus and that it’s necessary for one to stretch the imagination to accept the president’s blatant stretching of the truth.

Whitaker then shifts to another grievance: that President Obama got more talking time than Romney.

“On why Obama got more time to speak, it should be noted that Candy and her commission producers tried to keep it even but that Obama went on longer largely because he speaks more slowly.”

Conservatives have hurled many insults towards President Obama but “Droopy Dog” has not been one of them.

In an attempt to make the case for impartiality on this point, the CNN vice-president proposes a solution: “We’re going to do a word count to see whether, as in Denver, Romney actually got more words in even if he talked for a shorter period of time.”

When I read that gem, I had to Google the story to make sure this leaked memo wasn’t another “Talk Like a Pirate Day” prank.

When you’re counting the candidates’ words, then you’re engaging in some double-plus “Cover Your Ass” scrambling and searching for any talking point to distract from the totality Crowley’s mishandling of what a feminist reporter called a format so simple to manage that it was demeaning to assign to a woman.

All Crowley needed to do is keep the candidates confined to their talking times and take questions in the prioritized order she and her staff selected. That’s all…but perhaps not enough for a journalistic “star”.

Obviously Crowley wanted to make her special night to be her night.

Less yokels, more Candy.

Crowley wanted to be more of a part of the debate than her role allowed.

Like Kanye West at the MTV video awards or those two screwballs who crashed Hank Aaron’s trot around the bases after becoming the home run king, Crowley crossed a line of appropriateness and “gonzo’d” the debate by becoming too much of a part of the story.

What Crowley did brought embarrassment to her profession and apparently her employers, who exacerbated matters through an absurd talking points memo intended to reassure the rest of the staff that their colleague “really did great” and to spin it as such.

Presidential Debate II was good for President Obama, OK for Mitt Romney but terrible for Crowley, CNN and journalism in general.

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