At GOP Debate, CNN Sucks Up to Candidates, Letting Racism and Misogyny Slide

In Arizona, the answers given by the presidential contenders mattered less the questions never asked.

In the seemingly endless series of debates between the Republican presidential candidates that has so far marked the 2012 campaign, debate #20, at the Mesa County Arts Center in Arizona, where the state G.O.P. will hold its presidential primary next week, was something of a dud. There were no moon colonies or $2.4 trillion "blank" checks or "oops" moments. No applause for executions or booing of gay soldiers. Well, okay, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich did accuse President Barack Obama of voting, while in the Illinois state legislature, to "legalize infanticide" (because of Obama's vote against a bill designed to chip away at abortion rights), but that's about as crazy as it got.

It should have been a whole lot crazier, revealing once again the derangement of the 21st-century Republican Party, but moderator CNN moderator John King apparently thought it his job not to challenge the candidates too terribly hard, lest he be derided as a member of the media elite. So "elite" was one thing King proved he certainly was not -- at least not in the realm of debate moderators.

Now pulling ahead of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in the national polls, former U.S. senator Rick Santorum saw his position in the debate line-up change, occupying the center stage with Romney. 

Santorum has not failed to make news in the last several weeks, as his opposition to the use of birth control has come to light, not to mention the resurfacing, thanks to Right Wing Watch, of a 2008 speech he delivered at Ave Maria University in which he claimed that Satan, "the father of lies," had set his sights on the United States, and that explained why universities were teaching bad things and why mainline Protestant churches were no longer really Christian. 

Then there were the remarks that Foster Freiss -- the primary donor to the Red, White and Blue Fund, a Santorum-allied superPAC -- made to MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell last week about birth control. (Freiss said that a Bayer aspirin held  by a woman between her knees made for an adequate form of contraception.)

Contraception Issue Evaded; Racist 'Expert' Citation Overlooked

King did ask the candidates about contraception, saying, "Since birth control is the latest hot topic, which candidate believes in birth control, and if not, why?" The audience booed heartily, and King took note of the lack of popularity of the question inside the Arizona hall. But he didn't press any of candidates to actually answer the question, and none of them really did. Romney went straight to the "war on religion" theme, alleging that as President Barack Obama's true aim in requiring institutions affiliated with the Roman Catholic church to adhere to a requirement in the new health-care law that employer-provided health insurance plans cover the costs of prescription contraception, and do so without requiring co-payment by the patient. 

Gingrich made his infanticide smear, unchallenged by the moderator, while Ron Paul said that birth control pills weren't the problem; immoral behavior was the problem.

"I think the immorality creates the problem of wanting to use the pills. So you don't blame the pills," Paul said. "I think it's sort of like the argument -- conservatives use the argument all the time about guns. Guns don't kill, criminals kill."

To his credit, Paul made the point that emergency contraception -- pills that women can take after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy -- are chemically no different than non-emergency birth control pills, but he went on to say that any federal support for Planned Parenthood's reproductive health programs was tantamount to support for abortions.

Gingrich snagged Romney on a requirement that hospitals, under the Massachusetts health-care reform bill his opponents derisively call "Romneycare," had to provide emergency contraception to rape victims. Romney contended that Catholic hospitals did so voluntarily, but Gingrich cited an executive order from the governor that required that the drug be made available in all hospitals to women who have been raped. And in the woman-hating land of the G.O.P., that is a very bad thing. 

This would have been an opportune moment for King to ask, "But what if the only hospital a rape victim could get to is Catholic? What if she was taken there in an ambulance? We know that emergency contraception is most effective if taken with 24 hours of intercourse. Should she be subjected to the risk of pregnancy because of a religious edict?" But, of course, that question was never asked, and the candidates competed for the prize of who was better at depriving rape victims of medical care. 

King asked Santorum about his previously stated personal opposition to contraception, but Santorum gave an evasive answer, one King let him get away with.

"When you were campaigning in Iowa," King said to Santorum, "you told an evangelical blog, if elected, you will talk about what, quote, 'no president has talked about before -- the dangers of contraception.' Why?"

"What I was talking about is we have a society -- Charles Murray just wrote a book about this and it's on the front page of the New York Times two days ago," Santorum replied, "which is the increasing number of children being born out of wedlock in America, teens who are sexually active." He then went on for a bit about the dangers of children being raised by single women.

Allow me to unpack this a bit. One would imagine contraception to be one means of reducing the numbers of children "born out of wedlock," as Santorum so quaintly describes it. But Charles Murray, author of the racist screed, The Bell Curve, cited without challenge as an expert? The same Charles Murray who alleged that African Americans are intellectually inferior to whites? And not a peep about that from the moderator?

Instead, King allowed Santorum to meander along, spinning a yarn about the breakdown of society that never clearly addressed his comments on the purported dangers of contraception. Santorum was never asked about the Satan speech or Freiss' smear against women.

No Questions on Santorum's Smear of Obama's Faith, or Romney's Sheriff Anti-Immigrant Sheriff Scandal

Out on the stump, and in his speech earlier this month to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Santorum has derided the science of climate change as a left-wing conspiracy designed to increase government's control of your life an lower the U.S. standard of living. At an Ohio campaign stop on Sunday, Santorum said that Obama's entire agenda was based on "a phony theology," and seemed to suggest that the president was an Earth worshipper, i.e., a pagan.

King did not question him on those statements.

Neither did he question Gingrich on his assertion, made in his speech to CPAC, that unemployment benefits violate the Declaration of Independence. Nor did he ask Romney to comment on the recently-resigned co-chair of his campaign, Sheriff Paul Babeu of Pinal County, Ariz., who left Team Romney under the cloud of an accusation from a male former lover, who is Mexican, that Babeu had threatened the man with deportation if he ever publicly revealed their relationship.

A Shout-Out to Arpaio; No Questioning of Santorum's Theological Rationale for Iran Strike

When, during a discussion of immigration policy, Santorum invoked the name of the notoriously anti-immigrant Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona's Maricopa County, King didn't blink an eye -- in fact, he noted the presence of Arpaio as something of a dignitary in the debate adience. But it was King's own network, CNN, that reported just hours before that Arpaio had briefed Santorum, who is seeking Arpaio's endorsement, on an "investigation" the sheriff is conducting into Obama's birth certificate.  

"He had no problems with what I told him that I may be doing," Arpaio said of Santorum in the CNN report.

The Justice Department recently released details of its investigation of Arpaio's Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO), finding "a pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos at MCSO that reaches the highest levels of the agency."

In a long discussion of what to do about Iran and its quest for a nuclear weapon, King never asked Santorum to clarify comments he made in New Hampshire suggesting that his tortured reading of Shi'ite theology was reason enough to bomb Iran.

A Fake Debate

When you read about this debate in corporate news outlets, you'll learn about a long discussion of the ups and downs of earmarks in congressional appropriations (Romney accused Santorum of being something of an earmark king), about the adorableness of the candidates' one-word descriptions of themselves, offered at King's behest (Gingrich: "Cheerful"), and perhaps even some snark about how oddly smooth Gingrich's skin appeared. You'll read a bit about the pros and cons of the seated staging of the debate, rather than the use of podiums. Some rightfully cranky reporter may remark on the ridiculous, ESPN-style introductions given the candidates. You'll probably be told that Romney won, Gingrich had a good night, and Santorum could have done better. But, really, none of that matters. What matters were the questions not asked, and the answers not given.

Early in the debate, John King asked Ron Paul why he was running an advertisement that labeled Santorum "a fake."

"Because he's a fake," Paul replied.

The same could be said of the whole exercise conducted in Arizona Wednesday night. It was a fake -- a hoax played on the electorate. Shame on CNN.


Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington correspondent. Follow her on Twitter:

AlterNet / By Adele M. Stan

Posted at February 22, 2012, 7:07pm

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