Inside the Garden of Political Town Hall Plants
A pruned argument should still make a point.
On Thursday, CNN will host a town hall with President Obama as part of his “final-year push to make gun control part of his legacy.” In addition to sitting down with liberal anchor Anderson Cooper, the network says Obama will “take questions from the audience.”
Uh-oh. Get out your best pruning shears and trowels. In an age of micromanaged partisan stagecraft and left-wing media enablers, there is no such thing as a spontaneous question.
CNN has a long history of allowing political plants to flourish in its public forums.
At the cable station’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas in 2007, moderator Wolf Blitzer introduced several citizen questioners as “ordinary people, undecided voters.” But they later turned out to include a former Arkansas Democratic director of political affairs, the president of the Islamic Society of Nevada, and a far left anti-war activist who’d been quoted in newspapers lambasting Harry Reid for his failure to pull out of Iraq.
At a CNN/YouTube GOP debate two weeks later, the everyday, “undecided voters” whose questions were chosen included:
—A member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual Americans For Hillary Clinton Steering Committee.
—A young woman named “Journey” who questioned the candidates on abortion and whom CNN failed to properly identify as an outspoken John Edwards supporter.
—A supposed “Log Cabin Republican” who had declared his support for Obama on an Obama ‘08 campaign blog.
—A supposedly unaffiliated “concerned mother” who was actually a staffer and prominent Pittsburgh union activist for the United Steelworkers — which had endorsed Edwards for president.
—A supposed “undecided” voter who urged Ron Paul to run as an independent, but who had already publicly declared his support for former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s Democratic presidential bid.
—A staffer for Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; a former intern for Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., and a former intern for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Once a manipulative gardener, always a manipulative gardener.
During the push for Obamacare, Democrat plants spread like kudzu across town hall propaganda events. At White House “citizen town halls” in 2009, Team Obama hand-picked not-so-random “random” questioners who included:
—An operative for the Washington, D.C.-based Health Care for America Now, the K Street Astroturf outfit with a $40 million budget to lobby for government-run health care that directed its activists to “drown out” opponents at town hall meetings.
—An “unemployed” cancer patient who was actually working for the DNC’s Organizing for America and the Virginia Organizing Project, which coordinated lobbying trips and health care forums with HCAN.
—A Democrat National Committee member and community blogger at Organizing for America.
—The 11-year-old daughter of a coordinator of Massachusetts Women for Obama who had donated thousands of dollars to the campaign, as had her law firm employer.
Using young people as horticultural conduits to shape narratives wasn’t an Obama invention, of course. Last week, Hillary Clinton’s town hall events featured two children reading scripted questions on gender pay equity and guns. The campaign balked at accusations that they would exploit kids and manufacture questions.
But this is the campaign of the former secretary of state whose staff bragged in emails released last fall that it had “planted” questions with CBS News’s “60 Minutes” in 2011.
And this is the woman whose 2008 presidential campaign staff admitted to providing prefab queries to a Grinnell College student in Iowa. Muriel Gallo-Chasanoff exposed how a senior Clinton staffer approached her with “a binder with pre-written questions.” She told CNN — attention, CNN! — that the “top one was planned specifically for a college student. … It said ‘college student’ in brackets and then the question.”
Gallo-Chasanoff conceded to asking the question, which read: “As a young person, I’m worried about the long-term effects of global warming. How does your plan combat climate change?”
Upon reflection, Gallo-Chasanoff felt ashamed of her cooperation with Democratic Kabuki theater and condemned the charade as “dishonest.”
If only more self-respecting journalists felt the same way.