CNN shouldn’t try to edit its own history

During last Wednesday’s YouTube/CNN presidential debate, the Republican candidates were posed a variety of questions about their positions on the economy, gun control, immigration and the war in Iraq. But one question, particularly relevant to voters in a time of war – both military and cultural — no longer appears on rebroadcasts of the event.

Ret. Brig. Gen. Keith Kerr rose from the audience and asked the candidates about their views on the controversial “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that is approaching its 15th anniversary. After lamenting that none of them answered his question even after pressing from moderator Anderson Cooper, Kerr sat down and the debate proceeded.

Before going off the air, Cooper told the audience that CNN had been subsequently alerted that Kerr served as a member of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Americans for a steering committee of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and that had the network realized this, it would have handled the situation differently.

While the network apologized, it went too far in pretending that the incident didn’t happen. Even though CNN erred in allowing a question from another campaign to get in without disclosing it, the question itself was topical and incredibly relevant to anyone who is running to become the next commander in chief.

Instead of acknowledging the mistake in future reruns, CNN has attempted to edit history by completely removing the question and the candidates’ responses. By doing so, it did a disservice to its viewers.

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It would not have been unreasonable to insert a graphic during Kerr’s question revealing his association with the Clinton campaign. Even though Kerr did not make an effort to reveal his affiliation during the event, the candidates’ responses were still valid. By removing them, potential voters were deprived of an opportunity to get more information about their positions.

Acknowledging that something went wrong in an Internet-driven debate that included a talking snowman and gunfire would not have damaged CNN’s public image as much as this does. If a candidate had committed a mistake on the level of CNN’s, say using incorrect statistics or flip-flopping, the network would run the clip perpetually for however long it was newsworthy.

The debate drew a record 4.6 million viewers. With less than a year to go before next November, voter interest only looks to increase. CNN shouldn’t damage its reputation and ability to cover all the candidates by appearing to be less than fully committed to letting viewers see the good, the bad and the ugly about the election.