CNN's blatant and bizarre Tulsi Gabbard snub

CNN has held more town hall events than any of the three cable news networks over the past few years and continues that programming strategy as we head into the meat of the 2020 campaign.

For the most part, the network has made an effort to provide every candidate on the Democratic side during the primary season with an hourlong stage to answer questions from moderators and voters alike. And that's what makes CNN's decision to snub Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardFinancial firms facing serious hacking threat in COVID-19 era Gabbard drops defamation lawsuit against Clinton It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process MORE (D-Hawaii) from a series of town halls just days before the New Hampshire primary not only odd but optically nonsensical.

Note: Gabbard is currently polling at 4.8 percent in the RealClearPolitics index of polls in New Hampshire. That puts her ahead of tech entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangBiden campaign to take over 'Supernatural' star's Instagram for interview Hillicon Valley: Justice Department announces superseding indictment against WikiLeaks' Assange | Facebook ad boycott gains momentum | FBI sees spike in coronavirus-related cyber threats | Boston city government bans facial recognition technology The Hill's Campaign Report: Progressives feel momentum after primary night MORE (4.0 percent), businessman Tom SteyerTom SteyerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Jacksonville mandates face coverings as GOP convention approaches Steyer endorses Markey in Massachusetts Senate primary Celebrities fundraise for Markey ahead of Massachusetts Senate primary MORE (1.8 percent) and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval PatrickDeval PatrickIt's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process Top Democratic super PACs team up to boost Biden Andrew Yang endorses Biden in 2020 race MORE (no polling available). 

So what do these low-polling candidates all have in common?

They all received invites to the CNN New Hampshire town hall. 

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The most recent poll from American Research Group released out of the state even has Gabbard ahead of Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Teachers' union President Randi Weingarten calls Trump administration plan to reopen schools 'a train wreck'; US surpasses 3 million COVID-19 cases The Hill's Coronavirus Report: DC's Bowser says protesters and nation were 'assaulted' in front of Lafayette Square last month; Brazil's Bolsonaro, noted virus skeptic, tests positive for COVID-19 Hillicon Valley: QAnon scores wins, creating GOP problem | Supreme Court upholds regulation banning robocalls to cellphones | Foreign hackers take aim at homebound Americans | Uber acquires Postmates MORE (D-Minn.), with the Hawaii congresswoman clocking in at 8 percent to Klobuchar's 7 percent. 

And if we're just talking CNN-University of New Hampshire polling, Gabbard is at 5 percent, which places her 3 points higher than Steyer and 5 points higher than Patrick, who clocks in a 0.0 percent. 

"We have reached out, I think, more than once, and we received no explanation," Gabbard told Fox News on Tuesday regarding the noninvite. "I don't even think we've gotten a response to date about why they're excluding the first female combat veteran ever to run for president, the only woman of color in the race," she added. 

The candidate has also broached the snub at campaign events since. 

CNN followed up on its announcement of the New Hampshire town halls on Thursday to explain why Patrick was invited, again without mentioning Gabbard. 

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“Deval Patrick, who has not yet qualified for the February 7 debate, was offered an opportunity to participate in a CNN New Hampshire town hall, as part of the network's commitment to hosting individual town halls with the Democratic presidential candidates,” the spokesperson said. 

The last time Gabbard appeared on CNN during one of its special events was at a Democratic debate in Ohio in October. It was then that the Iraq War veteran addressed allegations made by The New York Times and a CNN commentator that she was an asset of the Russian government, an allegation launched (and unchallenged) by 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: Facebook civil rights audit finds 'serious setbacks' | Facebook takes down Roger Stone-affiliated accounts, pages | State and local officials beg Congress for more elections funds OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Sanders-Biden climate task force calls for carbon-free power by 2035 | Park Police did not record radio transmissions during June 1 sweep of White House protesters | Court upholds protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears GOP Miami mayor does not commit to voting for Trump MORE

“Just two days ago The New York Times put out an article saying that I’m a Russian asset and [a Syrian President Bashar Assad] apologist and all these different smears,” she said. “This morning a CNN commentator [Bakari Sellers] said on national television that I’m an asset of Russia. Completely despicable.”  

Sellers actually called Gabbard a "puppet for the Russian government" without presenting any evidence to back up the claim. 

"There is no question, there is no question that Tulsi Gabbard, of all the 12, is a puppet for the Russian government," alleged Sellers, a former member of the South Carolina House of Representatives.

"There is a chance that Tulsi is not just working for the United States," he added. "That's not just an allegation."

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So what's happening here exactly? 

Does CNN really agree with Sellers that Gabbard is a puppet for Russia?

Is the network punishing Gabbard for defending herself on CNN air from baseless allegations during that debate in October? 

Are Hillary Clinton's people, likely not thrilled that Gabbard just launched a $50 million defamation lawsuit against the former secretary of State for publicly calling Gabbard a Russian asset, somehow pressuring the network not to provide her a national platform?  

The perception that some in media root for a particular candidate is nothing new. Just look back in 2016 and how the American public viewed the race between Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpKimberly Guilfoyle reports being asymptomatic and 'feeling really pretty good' after COVID-19 diagnosis Biden says he will rejoin WHO on his first day in office Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad MORE and Hillary Clinton.  

A USA Today poll a month before that election showed that by a nearly 10-1 margin, American voters felt the media were rooting for Clinton over Trump. 10-to-1. That perspective includes a majority of Clinton supporters.  

The Hill, along with other news organizations, has reached out to CNN for comment as to why a candidate polling higher than three other invited candidates did not receive an invitation to one of its town halls.  

There has been no response. Perhaps because there's no plausible explanation for slighting a candidate quite as bizarrely, and blatantly, as this.

Joe Concha is a media reporter for The Hill. Follow him on Twitter @JoeConchaTV.