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CNN Defends Presence of Clinton-Connected Questioner at YouTube Debate

Network Claims YouTube Allowed Retired California National Guard Gen. Keith Kerr Into Event 11/29/2007 03:17:00 AM Eastern

CNN

issued a statement Thursday defending the decision to allow a retired brigadier general who had been on a gay-and-lesbian steering committee for Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) to pose a question about gays in the military at its

YouTube debate

Wednesday.

CNN/YouTube Republican debate

“The whole point of these ground-breaking CNN/YouTube debates is to focus on substantive questions of concern to real people and to throw open the process to a wider range of Americans all around the country. CNN cared about what you asked, not who you were. This was the case for both the Democratic and the Republican CNN/YouTube debates,” the network said in a statement.

Keith Kerr, 76, a retired general with the California National Guard, asked the Republican candidates if they thought U.S. military personnel were professional enough to serve alongside gay and lesbian counterparts.

Kerr is a well-known gay activist who has challenged the military’s don’t-ask, don’t-tell policy.

Sam Feist, political director for CNN, said the network vetted Kerr’s military credentials and made sure he had not donated to any of the current candidates’ campaigns.

He stressed that it was YouTube, not CNN, which invited Kerr to be in the auditorium during the debate.

“We obviously missed the fact that he was on a list of people on a steering committee,” Feist said. “His was a particularly sensitive question. And I think that is why this became such a sensitive issue.”

The sources and provenance of questions have become somewhat of a hot-button issue during a particularly competitive election season. The Clinton campaign admitted planting a question about global warming during a town-hall meeting in Iowa last month. And the co-chairman of one of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's New Hampshire town committees has turned up at multiple events to pose questions to the Republican candidate.

But the Republican/YouTube debate -- which started out with a testy exchange between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Giuliani on another sensitive issue, immigration -- was the highest rated cable debate in history, attracting 4.48 million viewers.

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