CNN fails the nation

The signal failure of the American media during the Trump era has been the refusal to hold Donald Trump accountable for his behavior – and, in particular, his endless lies.

That has never been more obvious than it was at Thursday night’s presidential debate.

The CNN moderators who should have corrected Trump’s outrageous and easily disproved assertions – about immigration, abortion, Covid, Jan. 6, NATO, you name it – instead thanked him obsequiously.

The result was a debate where performance meant everything, and substance meant nothing.

Biden’s performance was stumbling and inept – highly concerning to anyone who fears a Trump victory.

But Trump’s incessant lying, refusal to answer direct questions, and general lunacy would have been the other major takeaway from the debate if the moderators had done their jobs instead of acting like polite potted plants.

They even let him know ahead of time that they wouldn’t do live fact-checking – an obvious and colossal mistake that I decried earlier this week. That gave Trump the green light to let loose without consequences.

Twitter (I still call it that) is not a reliable forum for much of anything these days, but it was alive and well Thursday night as people I follow realized, in real time, what a debacle CNN’s no-fact-checking rule had become.

Richard Stengel wrote: “A debate where one candidate flagrantly lies again and again without a mechanism for correction is not a debate.”

David Rothkopf wrote: “The lack of challenges from moderators has the effect of making it appear that the lies flowing from Trump’s mouth are the same as the facts in which Biden is dealing.”

Jessica Valenti wrote: “I’m sorry, but Trump just claimed that Democrats allow ‘after birth’ abortion and the moderators’ only response was ‘thank you’???”

Ruth Ben-Ghiat wrote: “The debate is about information warfare for Trump. As I said earlier today, you don’t let a proven propagandist on stage without stopping him when he lies. Instant refutation is key. Have we learned nothing in the last 9 years?”

Will Bunch wrote: “CNN’s lack of fact checking and wooden questions are just as bad for democracy as everything else that’s happening.”

Mollie Katzen wrote: “This debate is meaningless without fact-checking.”

Mark Jacob wrote: “When CNN announced that it would fact-check only after the debate — when everyone had switched to reruns of “Two and a Half Men” — Trump took that as an invitation to lie even more than usual.”

Katty Kay wrote: “Fact checkers on line are working very hard. But without the lies being called out in real time, the public doesn’t know what’s true and what isn’t.”

Karen Attiah wrote: “Whatever the agreement to not push back or fact-check in real time– this is disturbing to me. This is how democracy and norms get eroded. Fact-checking and preparedness are part of the safeguards to keep people in power accountable. This nation is in trouble.”

Heather Digby Parton wrote: “CNN obviously decided that this debate is all about ‘performance,’ vibes, looks etc. and Biden is losing on that. If it was about facts, truth, reality — Trump would be the loser. But nobody will know that.”

Franklin Leonard wrote: “Everyone has failed here. Everyone. But especially the media.”

John Nichols wrote: “CNN is illustrating how a ‘debate’ where the moderators reject the basic responsibility of fact-checking in real time, and refuse to challenge blatantly false statements, is not a debate. It’s a chaos where lies are given equal footing with the truth.”

Judd Legum wrote: “There has never been a debate with less fact checking from the moderators than this one. Just a complete abdication of responsibility.”

Clara Jeffery wrote: “I don’t understand why Tapper and Bash aren’t pushing back on any of this complete BS.”

Don Van Natta Jr. wrote: “CNN’s moderators failed miserably. Zero fact-checking, little accountability when candidates dodge questions, uneven “moderation” of moments when the candidates challenge each other. A public disservice.”

Mikel Jollett wrote: “I wonder if Jack Tapper and Dana Bash realize how much–through their silence and unwillingness to correct lie after lie spewed by a narcissistic felon on stage–they have just become the faces of the COLLAPSE of American media.”

Steven Greenhouse wrote: “SOMETHING IS EXTREMELY BROKEN IN TONIGHT’S DEBATE. Trump tells lie after lie after lie, and the moderators do absolutely nothing to correct him. Tapper and Bash and CNN are letting this crucial debate turn into an ocean of lies.”

Jason Kint called attention the CNN reporter Daniel Dale’s “impressive” fact check – which came at 11:47 p.m.

Robert Reich wrote: “Memo to the media: Calling out Trump’s lies isn’t ‘biased.’ It’s your job.”

Heather Cox Richardson wrote: “Why is everyone talking about Biden’s voice without mentioning that Trump didn’t say a single true thing in the entire debate?”

And CNN, apparently, has no regrets. Brian Stelter wrote: “A CNN exec in the control room texts me: ‘We are very proud of Jake and Dana. Our job was to make sure candidates were heard so voters can make informed decisions and we are pleased we were able to do that.’”


  1. In CNN’s attempt to control interruptions by the candidates, they failed to interrupt, as moderators, to insist that the candidates tell the truth. Especially egregious was letting Trump repeat his J6 lies.

  2. Keep whining, Dan. Your guy reminds me of a mummy who was dragged out of a pyramid and dressed in a suit. Even the “progressives” of MSNBC want the Dems to replace Senile Joe. But by all means, Dan, keep whining. It’s pathetic, but very fun to watch. LOL

  3. This presupposes that what we expect from legitimate moderators matches what CNN instructs its moderators to do. A safer bet? CNN’s focus is on ratings, the aim to entertain. The crazier and more obnoxious Trump’s behavior, the more pleased CNN executives are. Hence, there likely was an instruction not to rein him in.

  4. Nothing CNN could have done could have possibly made Biden look good. And that’s not their job anyway.

    Sure, maybe they could held Trump more accountable. But you can not fault CNN for Biden’s weak performance. A decent Democratic candidate could have wiped the floor with Trump, even in that format.

    CNN didn’t fail the nation. Both parties have failed the nation by not fielding candidates qualified for the office.

  5. Meaning no disrespect, Mr Froomkin and all of the Tweeters, in their focus on fact-checking, are mis-framing. A debate, like civic discourse generally, rests on implied norms of democratic speech: that the speaker’s arguments are in good faith (rest on what the speaker believes is a sufficient factual basis), that they are arguments for policies or actions that advance our assumed common goal as a nation (advancing equitable self-determination), and that they’re sincere (the speaker believes his/her reasoning is sound). Trump (and Republican) speech doesn’t conform to these norms. It’s authoritarian speech; it’s only criterion is whether it advances the goal of the speaker to advance his/her power. To allow Trump to participate in a debate, to allow any Republican to appear in a media format, to quote a Republican in a newspaper article, is to imply to the viewer or reader that he/she is offering democratic speech, when this is demonstrably false. Republican speech should be referenced in the civic discourse only in order to analyze what authoritarian goal the speaker is pursuing. To do otherwise is to mis-code, and so normalize, the speech as democratic speech, and to normalize the speaker as a participant in society’s pursuit of democratic goals. Fact-checking Trump, or any Republican speaker, is better than not doing so, but is a wan palliative once the speaker already has been normalized by platforming his/her speech in a public forum in the first place.

    • Now the “progressives” don’t want to “allow” Republicans to appear in any media format. Just how do you propose to enforce that? Your fascist teeth are showing again, you stupid, pathetic, laughable coward. Love that North Korea, do ya? LOL

      • You’re right. Democrats should simply choose not to appear with Trump in any forum. There is zero upside for them or the seriously interested public. As for North Korea and love, last I checked it was your guy who admitted to the affair with the Kim.

        • “The seriously interested public” = Zealots like you. Good luck with that. Weirdly enough, not everyone raises a stiff-armed salute to Rachel Maddow and Dan Froomkin. But feel free to pretend, just as you were pretending that Senile Joe Biden isn’t 81 years old going on 95 and doesn’t belong in a nursing home being served apple sauce while watching reruns of Murder She Wrote. That ought to work real well for you. LOL


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