March 21, 2019 - 9:00am
It was 13 months ago when CNN staged a two-hour "town hall" for what was touted as a healing and communal event in the wake of the tragedy that had recently played out at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Held at the nearby Florida Panthers hockey arena, the event turned into an emotional wreck of hysterics and accusations, with little in the way of reasoned thought being allowed to survive.
Regardless how much of an embarrassment the charade became, CNN has just been graced with the Walter Cronkite Award for its town hall, and boy, are they getting some mileage out of it.
If you are baffled how this pitchfork-and-torches production could be so celebrated, remember it's an honor bestowed by the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center, a public policy center at Southern Cal that focuses on communications and journalism.
That is, a media think tank based on the campus of a California university and named after a famed leftist television producer -- so, rewarding a gun-control agitprop TV special is not a stretch in logistics. As the jury proudly describes it in the promotional text:
"CNN Parkland Town Hall, a two-hour special aired only seven days after 17 students and teachers were murdered by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In this 'compelling and powerful' forum, moderator Jake Tapper deftly gave generous space to speak to gun control advocates, politicians, Parkland students, parents and a representative from the NRA. The program helped advance the national conversation on gun control and violence.”
Interesting they mention how the town hall helped “advance the national conversation” when invited panelist Dana Loesch and Marco Rubio were barely permitted to speak at times, as they were shouted down constantly.
The lowlights were plenty. You had recently deposed Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel making many numerous claims about the Feb. 14, 2018 shooting that were all proven false. You had Congressman Ted Deutch peacocking before the cameras (his default mode). There were students berating standing politicians and just about anyone with a cause looking for a way to treat Dana Loesch like a social pariah as they tried to scapegoat the NRA as the cause of everything.
In one telling exchange, the now-departed Scott Israel appeared to be stern of character as he had this terse exchange with Loesch:
He challenged her accuracy on the 39 visits, except that was the figure widely reported in the media, including at CNN. Their source for that figure? Broward County Sheriff's records. When Israel was asked more directly about the various calls into his department, Israel had this to say: “We received numerous tips on this killer. Some we answered by phone. Some were out of state. Some we went out there ... If we made a mistake, I’ll act accordingly and deal with it.” As we have all come to learn, Israel was all about not acting accordingly in the past, and not dealing with the facts in the aftermath.
At one point student anti-gun activist Cameron Kasky was brought out to have a conversation with Sen. Marco Rubio, and he opened the “discussion” in this fashion:
“I’m sorry, I know I’m not supposed to do this, but I’m not going to listen to that. Sen. Rubio, it’s hard to look at you and not look down the barrel on an AR-15 and not look at Nikolas Cruz, but the point is: You’re here and there are some people who are not.”
Following this intemperate opener Rubio repeatedly attempted to deliver responses and was shouted down by the crowd. The jeering of one side was a consistent feature of the night, with little in the way of moderating taking place. Likewise was the consistent lack of anything approaching fact-checking.
Whether it was Israel, Deutsch, or the students, all were permitted to spew talking points and accusations without meeting a journalistic challenge from host Jake Tapper. This was not a forum for debate and the expression of ideas. It was set up as a catharsis for the angered students and community, allowing them to rail and hector selected figures they declared were worthy of their scorn.
The Annenberg Center is supposedly rewarding “Excellence in Television Political Journalism,” except the CNN town hall was not only an exercise in advocacy for gun control, the event was not even positioned as journalism. What has become dubbed today as The Parkland Town Hall was actually titled at the time, "Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action". This clearly gave the students priority, and it meant that exploring details and adhering to facts were made secondary -- or were even nonexistent.
With this contrived event, CNN effectively set the stage for the news narrative for the following months, as the Parkland kids were routinely trotted out in front of cameras, and on the sets of the news networks, to begin forwarding the anti-gun agenda. The kids were unassailable -- as they had just endured the tragedy and therefore were above criticism and forgiven for playing fast and loose with facts.
Rubio and Loesch realized this, realized they had been invited as "whipping boys". They stayed calm and in control, while they were called “murderer” repeatedly that night. Had either of them so much as raised their voices, they would have been branded as “student attackers” and demonized ... further. This played out during the long duration of the Parkland gun debates, as anyone who so much as corrected factual inaccuracies or Constitutional violations forwarded by any MSD students experienced.
CNN hosting this town hall was the touchstone moment of their movement, and the students became the spokespeople with a forcefield. They were granted the Cronkite Award as a form of gratitude for their effort towards the cause.
Brad Slager, a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the entertainment industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.