Reeling from a question-sharing scandal involving now-former contributor Donna Brazile, CNN is now getting more unwelcome attention from yet another WikiLeaks email dump. “WikiLeaks: DNC and CNN colluded on questions for Trump, Cruz,” reads the headline at the Washington Examiner. Twitter is scolding, as usual:
The supporting evidence? In this WikiLeaks email here, Lauren Dillon of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) on April 28 issues a plea to colleagues at the party offices:
Subject: Cruz on CNN
CNN is looking for questions.
Please send some topical/interesting ones.
Maybe a couple on Fiorina.
Someone please take point and send them all together by 3pm.
Just a few days before that, Dillon sought to activate the troops for a different CNN interview:
Subject: Trump Questions for CNN
Wolf Blitzer is interviewing Trump on Tues ahead of his foreign policy address on Wed.
Please send me thoughts by 10:30 AM tomorrow.
As the emails themselves attest, the Blitzer-Trump affair ended up being canceled.
Hammered with inquiries, CNN issued the following statement on this episode: “This is completely unremarkable. We have similar communications with Republicans. When preparing for interviews we are regularly sent suggestions from rival campaigns and political parties, both solicited and unsolicited. Casting a wide net to ensure a tough and fair interview isn’t just common media practice, it’s smart.”
At the risk of breaking a long-running streak of criticizing CNN, the Erik Wemple Blog agrees with the network on this one. If indeed it makes similar efforts to generate questions to place before Democrats, there’s nothing approaching a scandal or “collusion” or anything improper here. It looks like a patented case of a private communication taking on a slimy sheen just because it’s now public.
Another term for seeking questions and insights from a wide array of sources before an interview: reporting. The difference between gathering ideas for questions from partisans and leaking questions to partisans — Brazile’s transgression — couldn’t possibly be more complete. The former is a way of grilling politicians; the latter is a way of coddling politicians.
These emails were flying around in the heat of the presidential primaries, when Republicans were hammering Republicans and likewise with the Democrats. Proposed questions were doubtless flying all around Washington, between former enemies and temporary allies and on and on. That’s a healthy process.
Fun as these particular emails are to read, they don’t matter. What does matter is the product: Did CNN place tough questions before both Democratic and Republican candidates when they managed to corral them at town hall events, debates and one-on-one interviews in the primary season? Certainly Republican National Committee official Sean Spicer had no complaints when the Erik Wemple Blog asked him about CNN in March: “They are pros up and down from [CNN Worldwide President] Jeff Zucker at the top all the way to the contributors and the production team and their reporters. They have a complete team of top-notch professionals.”