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CNN & the New York Times Show Us How Not to End a Debate

Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg stand at their podiums on the stage of the fourth Democratic debate.

Last night’s Democratic debate was an excruciating three hours long. That’s way too long, but you could argue that that amount of time is necessary to get through so many important issues with twelve candidates. But the moderators from CNN and the New York Times didn’t use all of that time to discuss those issues. Instead, they dedicated the last 20 minutes of the debate to asking about Ellen DeGeneres.

“Last week, Ellen DeGeneres was criticized after she and former President George W. Bush were seen laughing together at a football game. Ellen defended their friendship, saying, ‘We’re all different and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s OK, that we’re all different,’” Anderson Cooper said, about 2 hours and 40 minutes in. “So in that spirit, we’d like you to tell us about a friendship that you’ve had that would surprise us and what impacts it’s had on you and your beliefs.”

This captures the reaction pretty well:

The question was frustrating in just how deeply it missed the point of the Ellen/Bush controversy in the first place. No one is mad that a liberal person is friends with a Republican. We’re mad that someone so influential, who claims to be so progressive, is friends with a war criminal who actively worked to strip LGBTQ people of their fundamental rights—and we’re even more upset that she defended this friendship as “kindness,” as if it’s unkind not to be friends with people who spent their career working to dehumanize you.

Julián Castro seemed to get this, as he made the distinction between being kind and holding people accountable, “especially public servants who have a record.”

He made his feelings on the question even clearer later, calling the question “journalistic malpractice” in an interview and posting this to Twitter:

Kamala Harris had similar thoughts.

As did former candidate (and current Washington Governor) Jay Inslee.

In fact, a LOT of people had that thought. The Ellen question would have been bad enough on its own, but it came after the moderators spent the entire debate ignoring climate change, as well as a whole host of other really urgent issues.

Don’t worry, everybody! We only have to go through this eight more times before the primaries.

(image: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.