[Guest post by DRJ]
In last week’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas, CNN identified several questioners as “undecided voters” who are Democratic Party members and may also be Democratic officials and activists. In one case, the person might not even be a voter.
I commented on this story here and was roundly criticized for missing the boat. Most of the comments went like this: “It’s a Democratic debate. You don’t have to say the participants were Democrats because everyone knows they are or they wouldn’t be there. They are probably undecided which Democratic candidate they want to vote for.” Those commenters believed CNN was justified in labeling the questioners as undecided voters.
Let’s set aside the issue of whether the questioners were truly undecided even though there’s some indication that a few are associated with the Clinton campaign. We’ll give them the benefit of the undecided doubt. To those bloggers, commenters and readers who still believe CNN was right, here are some flaws in your logic:
1. “Undecided voter” has a common sense definition. It refers to a person who hasn’t decided for whom they will vote. It doesn’t mean someone who knows they will vote for a Democrat but hasn’t decided which one. As Jim Geraghty pointed out, if you want to say “undecided Democratic voter,” say it.
2. “Undecided voter” doesn’t suddenly have a new meaning because it is used at a Democratic debate. I agree it could have a different meaning if it happened at a Democratic Convention but debates are not exclusively partisan events. Independent voters are expected to and actually attend Democratic and Republican debates because they want information to help them make up their minds. Disenchanted Democrats and Republicans might also attend the other side’s debates.
3. The last time I checked the polls, there are still people who identify themselves as independents. Perhaps CNN knew there were no independents or disenchanted Republicans who might ask questions at this debate (given what we’ve learned about the way tickets were distributed, CNN might very well have known that only Democrats were there), but how would the television audience know that? CNN has no excuse for misleading their viewing audience with vague labels.
4. Finally, I don’t recall anyone who was anxious to defend CNN’s presentation of Maria L. as an undecided voter. It seems Maria may be a foreign exchange intern working in Sen. Harry Reid’s office. If so, she’s not eligible to vote because she isn’t a citizen. Maybe she never mentioned this to CNN but it does make me wonder why she was interested in participating in the debate.
UPDATE: But see comment 2 about Maria L.’s citizenship.