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Opinion CNN didn’t need to beg Joe Biden to participate in its debate

Highlights from the debate, where candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders took on gun control, Benghazi and other top issues (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

Late-night comics had a blast with CNN’s low-rent attempts to bait Vice President Joe Biden to participate in Tuesday night’s Democratic debate. With good reason, too: The network played footsie with its eligibility requirements to allow Biden to participate up until the event’s 8:30 p.m. ET start time. And it beamed out images of an “extra podium” to sweeten the deal for the gaffe-prone Democrat.

After the debate, those clown-time tactics look even more absurd than they did before it. This debate didn’t need Joe Biden. It had Anderson Cooper’s cheat sheet.

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Over two hours of substantive discussion, Cooper gazed back and forth between his pre-printed primer and the assembled candidates — former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. The queries on the sheet covered probable cause in Baltimore arrests, climate change, affirmative action, gun control and a whole raft of additional, pressing topics — including Clinton’s never-ending e-mail troubles, which prompted a brief and much-tweeted love-fest between Clinton herself, O’Malley and Sanders. “I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails,” said Sanders.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders responded to a question about Hillary Clinton's e-mails. (Video: CNN)

Yet Cooper was prepared with a counterpoint: “Gov. Chafee, for the record, on the campaign trail, you’ve said a different thing. You said this is a huge issue. Standing here in front of Secretary Clinton, are you willing to say that to her face?” He most certainly was. After Chafee finished with his brief lecture on credibility in American politics, Cooper asked Clinton if she wanted to respond to the former Rhode Island senator. “No,” she responded, in what was perhaps the debate’s high point.

So it went throughout the telecast: As the candidates droned on, Cooper gazed down on his master debate cheat sheet, where he found discrepancies among their positions and carefully drafted questions. His reliance on the written notes provided a welcome departure from the cable-news norm, which favors smooth anchors who read impeccably from monitors. Join me in demanding that CNN publish the Cooper cheat sheet in full.