The Weekly Standard stirred a Drudge-assisted media ruckus Tuesday with this headline: “CNN Debate Moderator Was Member of Clinton Global Initiative.”
Good timing. That moderator is Anderson Cooper, who very shortly will stand in front of five Democratic presidential hopefuls at the Wynn Las Vegas for the party’s first debate — a “crucial” test, if you believe the network’s wall-to-wall pregame hype. The Weekly Standard merely repeated something that had been reported previously — that is, that Cooper had previously been listed as a “member” of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) alongside such media luminaries as Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business, Christiane Amanpour of CNN, Greta Van Susteren of Fox News and others.
The suggestion, then, is that this “membership” status challenges Cooper’s bona fides as a moderator of a debate in which Democrat Hillary Clinton is taking part.
The online chatter plumed Tuesday to such a degree that Cooper felt compelled to address the matter in the ample pre-debate coverage. “With all due respect to the Weekly Standard, this is total bunk. There was a story in the Weekly Standard that I guess Drudge picked up on and — which said that I’m basically in the tank for Hillary Clinton because, nearly ten years ago, in 2007 I was asked to moderate a panel discussion at the Clinton Global Initiative,” said Cooper in a chat with anchor Jake Tapper. “Honestly, I can’t even remember what the panel was. There were no Clintons on the panel. I think it was on, like, international development aid or, honestly, I have no memory of what it was. But I was the panelist. I was the moderator of a panel of handful of people. I walked in, I did my moderation, I left, I wasn’t paid. I’ve never been back to the Clinton Global Initiative.”
That’s a convincing and factual rebuttal. Aside from George Stephanopoulos — who got busted earlier this year for significant donations to the Clinton Foundation, which organizes CGI events — those “members” are more like CGI “guests.” They come in and moderate a panel session or two, as Cooper noted, and then go on their merry way. That the Clinton Foundation once touted them as “members” stands as a testament to the foundation’s interest in conveying intimacy with modern media giants.
At the same time! CNN and its competitors in TV news — while not serving as real “members” of CGI — have indeed provided rather generous publicity and exposure for the Clinton Foundation/CGI in exchange for access to former president Bill Clinton and other newsmakers who attend CGI events. This blog has written a great deal about these transactions, calling into question why independent news organizations would agree to broadcast what are, in effect, extended infomercials for CGI. Just last spring, for example, the Clinton Foundation and CNN jostled one another over the terms of the network’s interview with Bill Clinton and its role in moderating a panel discussion at the event. Had CNN not agreed to the terms of the Clinton Foundation, another network surely would have.
So, no, Cooper can’t properly be called a “member” of CGI or the Clinton Foundation. He is well-suited to fairly manage the debate. However, CNN’s long history of collaborating with CGI events — complete with the CNN segments featuring the “Clinton Global Initiative” logo in the backdrop — opens it up to this very sniping.