By Roger Aronoff
Judging by the reaction to Thursday night's CNN debate, everything seems to be falling into place for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign for president. After flirting with subjecting her to some scrutiny, the media seem to be coming to the conclusion that her nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate is inevitable. The moderator, Wolf Blitzer, let Hillary off the hook on the issue of illegal immigration while luring Hillary's main competitor, Barack Obama, into a Wolf trap, and he stiffed candidate John Edwards on air time during the debate. It was Hillary's moment to shine, which is what CNN intended.
In contrast to Tim Russert's handling of the October 30 debate, at which Hillary virtually melted down under long-overdue tough questioning on the subject of illegal immigration, Blitzer gave her the kid-glove treatment. He had denied reports earlier in the week that he had been warned by the Clinton camp to not pull "a Russert" on Thursday night. But after watching his performance, you have to wonder. He permitted Hillary a brisk "No" when asked for her stand on driver's licenses for illegal aliens, whereas close scrutiny of her contradictory statements was in order. Instead, Blitzer sparred with Senator Barack Obama, who sounded almost like Hillary during the last debate. What's more, Blitzer did not actively discourage the audience from coming to Hillary's defense with audible sighs and moans when she came under attack by her rivals, especially John Edwards.
"Wolf Turned Into a Lamb," announced the Drudge Report, quoting a source in another campaign.
Blitzer's performance followed CNN personality Rick Sanchez attacking Senator John McCain for being present at a campaign event where a supporter criticized Mrs. Clinton as something that rhymes with witch. Sanchez had suggested that McCain had not defended Hillary vigorously enough. Apparently, according to CNN, candidates are not even supposed to allow their supporters to say nasty things about the Clintons. In the CNN world, everybody is supposed to be nice to the former First Lady. That was clearly the case on Thursday night. Blitzer has a lot to answer for.
Blitzer's acceptance of the "no" answer from Hillary was striking. There had been some scrutiny in the preceding weeks about the inevitability of her becoming the next president because of that very issue. In general, as all of the Republican presidential candidates fully understand, illegal immigration has the potential of destroying the Democrats next November. The media seem to understand this, too. Perhaps that is why Hillary was given a pass this time around.
As a result of waving the white flag in front of Hillary at Thursday's debate, we cannot expect the media to subject the senator to scrutiny for other campaign misdeeds, such as naming Sandy Berger as an adviser. He pled guilty in 2005 to destroying highly classified documents he had stolen from the National Archives in advance of the 9/11 commission hearings, to purge records that would reflect badly on the Clinton administration.
Going back further in time, to the days when she served as co-president under her husband, it is apparent that Hillary will not be asked about her judgment in having picked Craig Livingstone, a bar bouncer with a phony resumÃ©, to head up the FBI White House liaison office, who then oversaw the transfer of more than 1,000 FBI files of Republicans from previous administrations. Then-FBI director Louis Freeh called this an "egregious violation of privacy," and former FBI agent Dennis Sculimbrene said that White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum told him that Livingstone got the job because Hillary knew his mother.
Before Blitzer's Clinton-friendly performance on Thursday, we know that Hillary's campaign had been caught planting questions in town hall meetings. When John Edwards brought that up indirectly in the debate, he was booed by the audience, which suggests the audience was itself stacked with Hillary followers. Was CNN aware of this in advance? Was Blitzer? The Edwards, Obama and other campaigns should take a look.
In view of this kind of history, Blitzer's decision to spare Hillary from the scrutiny she richly deserves makes a lot of sense. Look for Hillary's rivals to join conservatives in calling CNN the Clinton News Network.