The Cable News Network this week is involved in a dispute with a survivor of the Florida school shooting, Colton Haab, who – during a CNN town hall meeting – wanted to ask questions on school safety.
Instead, he claimed, CNN had him ask a scripted question: “CNN had originally asked me to write a speech and questions, and it ended up being all scripted.”
CNN responded with a statement: “There is absolutely no truth to this. CNN did not provide or script questions for anyone in last night’s town hall, nor have we ever.”
“Nor have we ever”? EVER?
Return with us now to Las Vegas in 2007. CNN held a debate among Democratic presidential candidates. University of Nevada, Las Vegas student Maria Luisa Parra-Sandoval was scheduled to ask a question of Hillary Clinton. For some reason, CNN required questioners to submit their questions in advance.
Parra-Sandoval, described by one of her professors as “one of the top students in our program” was a politically savvy scholar who had recently been selected for a conference at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and was soon to intern in the office of U.S. Senator Harry Reid.
She wrote two questions, about health care and Iraq, and CNN rejected them both. They coaxed her to write new questions. Under deadline, she wrote a Yucca Mountain question and also threw in a lighter question about jewelry.
Near the very end of the debate, CNN asked Parra-Sandoval if she would ask the jewelry question. It was that or nothing. So her moment came:
“Maria Parra-Sandoval, and I’m a UNLV student. And my question is for Senator Clinton. This is a fun question for you. Do you prefer diamonds or pearls?”
In the next few days, the New York Times reported, she was accused “by everyone from bloggers to fellow students, of asking an airheaded, sexist question.” They didn’t know the airheads were in the network.
“That’s what the media does,” she told the Times. “See, the media chose what they wanted, not what the people or audience really wanted. That’s politics. That’s reality. … But do not judge me or my integrity based on that question.”
“She was very excited about going to the debate and getting to ask a question. Now it’s kind of turned into a nightmare for her,” UNLV Prof. David Damore told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “She’ll always be known as the girl who asked the dumb question.”
The network had an informed professional for a questioner and turned her into a joke. CNN may not script questions, but it knows how to manipulate the situation so it gets the questions it wants. The network has never apologized to Sandoval.
Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.