"CNN may have accidentally broadcast itself coaching a member of its focus group about what to say following Sunday night’s presidential debate — a charge the network strongly denies." - Blake Neff, The Daily Caller, in a story titled, "CNN Possibly Caught Coaching Post-Debate Focus Group"
To get you up to speed, here's what this column is all about in easy-to-absorb bullet-point fashion:
- Like other cable news outlets, CNN assembled a focus group of undecided voters to react to Sunday night's presidential debate between Donald TrumpDonald TrumpBaldwin calls Trump criticism following 'Rust' shooting 'surreal' Haley hits the stump in South Carolina Mary Trump files to dismiss Trump's lawsuit over NYT tax story MORE and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublican Ohio Senate candidate slams JD Vance over previous Trump comments Budowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema Countering the ongoing Republican delusion MORE
- At one point during the network's live telecast after the debate, a hot mic captures CNN correspondent and panel host Pamela Brown having a conversation with a member of the focus group seconds before the intended portion of the segment begins.
- Brown is overheard telling the panelist -- an African-American female -- the last portion of a Hillary Clinton comment during the debate: "...America's great, because we're good."
- The segment then proceeds in standard form
- The panelist agrees with Clinton's statement, saying, "She stated that America is already great and I tend to agree with that," (to argue against it would mean claiming America is not good)
So was Brown coaching a panelist here as The Daily Caller claims?
First, an overview of how these remote debate panels work from someone who produced for years:
They're not done in a studio with all the bells and whistles (like monitors and or the ability to control audio aspects in the room).
The panelists aren't wearing IFBs (Interruptible foldback), which is basically an earpiece an anchor/host and guests on a standard set will wear to hear from a producer in the control room for cues like time left coming out of a break ("Back in 3, 2, 1...").
And since the network wasn't able to provide earpieces to everyone participating (technically impossible) or be able to play clips from the control room using a monitor (for feedback reasons), the host in this case (Brown) was forced to set up the clip by relaying verbatim onto panelists what clip was being played to an audience at home before coming back live.
Geri Moore, a member of the CNN panel, tells The Hill in no uncertain terms that there were no instructions provided by the host:
"There was absolutely no coaching that occurred!" Moore says. "I am personally insulted by the whole matter. They were totally professional and honest the entire time."
Moore proceeds to explain the process, which any producer who has participated in these segments will tell you in standard operating procedure:
"The only information that was given to us prior to the cameras rolling, was the specific clip that would be playing," explains Moore. "We were unable to see or hear the clip and thus we needed to know what we would be commenting on. At no time were we told what or how to say anything."
"I would not have participated in this group had I thought I would be influenced in any manner, she adds. "Actually, my personality would had me heading to the door had that been the case."
Bill Clarkin, another member of the CNN focus group, echoes Moore's account.
"I witnessed absolutely no coaching done by anyone, including Pamela Brown, before, during or after the debate on Sunday night," Clarkin recalls. "I saw the clip people are referring to. Ms. Brown was simply repeating Hillary Clinton's statement. She (Brown) was doing this because the focus group could not view, or hear, the live feed due to feedback that would occur otherwise."
The woman who The Daily Caller says was being coached by CNN would not comment, asking that her privacy be respected.
The Daily Caller story insinuating collusion was quickly picked up by the Drudge Report, which helped the story catch fire far and wide.
How big is Drudge these days? Try #2 overall in traffic, only behind MSN.com and better than juggernaut sites like Disney (which owns ESPN.com and ABCNews.com), Yahoo, Google, Time Warner (which owns CNN.com) and Fox Entertainment (which includes FoxNews.com).
To put icing on the cake, Drudge — as it usually does — applied its own headline:
VIDEO: CNN Caught Coaching Focus Group... https://t.co/XOTbhIUfMK— DRUDGE REPORT (@DRUDGE_REPORT) October 10, 2016
With trust in media at an all-time low — an AP survey shows only six percent of Americans have a great deal of confidence in it overall — a story like this accusing CNN of coaching simply is accepted by many as fact, another day at the office, particularly by those supporting Donald Trump.
CNN obviously is pushing back with this statement:
"The focus group was not able to hear or see the post-debate segment. Brown described the segment in real time so they would know what was being discussed. It’s absurd to think she was coaching the focus group in anyway.”
Absurd indeed. Because think about it: If coaching occurred of an entire 14-person focus group — people who aren't employed by the network or are members of the media at all — doesn't logic say at least one would come forward to expose what happened?
There are many things to criticize the media on during this election.
However, this is not one of those times.
The Daily Caller owes CNN an apology. Now.
Concha is a media reporter for The Hill.
The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill