North Texas Daily

CNN showed a lack of journalistic ethics at the latest debate

CNN showed a lack of journalistic ethics at the latest debate

CNN showed a lack of journalistic ethics at the latest debate
January 23
17:37 2020

When the six eligible Democratic presidential candidates took the stage for CNN’s Des Moines debate on Jan. 14, all seemed poised to make their case to Iowa voters before the state’s Democratic caucuses on Feb. 3. 

Preliminary polls at the time collected by showed former vice president Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, leading among Iowa voters, with California Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and businessman Tom Steyer polling behind them. 

Although the debate went on like most others, with questions ranging from foreign policy to healthcare, media attention turned toward several key moments between Warren and Sanders and a brewing political feud between the candidates. A day before the debate, CNN broke a story regarding alleged remarks made by Sanders in a private conversation with Warren in 2018.

Warren claimed that Sanders said a woman could not win a presidential election, though Sanders’ campaign disputed the allegations. Meanwhile, vocal Sanders supporters rushed to Twitter with videos of the candidate encouraging young girls to run for president in the late ‘80s.

CNN debate moderator Abby Phillip asked Sanders about the conversation with Warren in a loaded question asking, “Why did you say that?” Sanders quickly denied ever making the sexist remarks. 

Instead of offering Warren a chance to directly confront her opponent on the contested conversation, Phillips threw her a softball question, asking Warren how Sanders’ comments “made her feel.”

That’s not how journalists should ask questions. 

Despite the he-said, she-said arguments and lack of clear evidence to support either side, CNN moderators and directors of the debate decided to ignore any disputed facts and instead broke journalistic ethics by gifting Warren with a free political hitjob. 

Regardless of your political affiliations, this breach of conduct from CNN seems like a no-brainer. The network’s moderator, by presuming Sanders as a liar and Warren as a victim without solid evidence, showed favor on one candidate over all others and contempt for their audience.

You don’t even have to believe Sanders’ denial to agree that people, even presidential candidates, ought to remain presumably innocent until proven guilty. 

The network went even further to promote the feud after the debate had ended. Cameras captured what appeared to be a heated exchange between Warren and Sanders while other candidates shook hands following the debate, leaving many to question what the senators were discussing. 

The interaction happened to take place right next to a hot microphone, but CNN conveniently forgot to release the audio until days later, after the rest of the media had already taken the bait. 

Sounds like a good thing for CNN’s ratings, but confusing at best for any potential voter trying to make an informed decision. Even so, viewers of the debate did not ignore CNN’s bias that night. Immediately following the debate, #CNNisTrash began trending on Twitter. 

It may not shock some to know that this isn’t the first time CNN has slighted presidential nominees on live television. Last October, entrepreneur Andrew Yang called out the network for not including his campaign finance numbers in a graphic including other candidates, although he out-raised the lowest candidate listed by around $4 million, according to an article published on

Hopefully voters can expect less messy media coverage of the Democratic primaries as 2020 continues, but with Donald Trump as the Republican challenger, anything goes. 

If you care about these upcoming elections (which you should), consider your media consumption and pay attention to how people and companies present information. Voters deserve news and discussion with clear intentions and facts, instead of coverage fit for a teen drama. Democracy depends on your informed votes. 

Featured Illustration: Miranda Thomas

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North Texas Daily

North Texas Daily

The North Texas Daily is the official student newspaper of the University of North Texas, proudly serving UNT and the Denton community since 1916.

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