CNN hosted their first “town hall” for the 2020 presidential cycle on January 28, 2019 for Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris. They are now getting ready to host their second town hall on February 12, 2019; this time for former CEO of Starbucks Howard Schultz who has not yet announced that he will run for president.

By giving Schultz a town hall, CNN actively creates a place of prominence for him in the political arena, a favor the vast majority of the declared candidates will never experience.

We would like to know what CNN’s prerequisite is for deciding who they will give airtime to because naming the already well-known (potential) candidates (and not the other 100+) without some standard for doing so would seem to exacerbate the problem of media bias and the power that corporate media has in shaping who our options are during elections.

Media Outlet: CNN
CNN Author: Sophie Tatum
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The Facts

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#1: What standard does CNN apply to decide which voices it will amplify with its presidential town halls? This is important to the credibility of mainstream media claiming to be objective and nonpartisan. One logical prerequisite for who would get a town hall on CNN might be seriousness, a reasonable measure of which is having registered as a candidate.

The Facts

  • CNN hosted their first “town hall” for the 2020 presidential cycle on January 28, 2019 for Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris.
  • They are now getting ready to host their second town hall on February 12, 2019; this time for former CEO of Starbucks Howard Schultz who has not yet announced that he will run for president.
  • 521 candidates have filed with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) to run for President in the 2020 cycle.
  • Howard Schultz has not filed to run for president. There are at least 32 candidates considering a bid: 24 Democrats, 4 Republicans, 3 Libertarians, and 1 Independent. CNN has offered a Town Hall only to Howard Schultz.
  • Howard Schultz has said that he is considering running as independent of an affiliated party. There are 45 people filed to run as independent of an affiliated party.

#2: CNN’s standard for newsworthiness is vague and likely explains in part how they arbitrarily decide who will get airtime.

The Facts

  • CNN defines newsworthiness for student journalists:
    • a newsworthy event is one that meets one or more of the following criteria:
    • is informative;
    • has an emotional effect on the audience;
    • is timely; will have an impact on those who see and hear it;
    • will arouse controversy because is varied sides, opinions, or solutions;
    • deals with people, places, or events that are well known or prominent; contains conflict on either a physical, moral, or emotional level;
    • promotes human interest or empathy;
    • provides an update to any previous story;
    • meets the needs of the network’s audience, or is unusual in any way
  • We would first need to answer the questions “who should get a town hall?” and “who is a legitimate candidate?”

#3: Equal airtime for candidates is important to the credibility of mainstream media claiming to be objective and nonpartisan. By giving Schultz a town hall, CNN actively creates a place of prominence for him in the political arena, a favor the vast majority of the declared candidates will never experience.

The Facts

  • Without providing equal airtime to candidates that meet an objective criteria for having a town hall, CNN is exacerbating the problem of media bias and the power that corporate media has in shaping who our options are during elections.
  • Favoring some candidates over others while claiming to be nonpartisan and objective causes people to not trust politics nor the media that reports politics. This is problematic for democracy as it leads to low-information voters and/or apathy amongst citizens.
  • Name recognition is a huge electability factor but there is a chicken-egg paradox with name recognition and media coverage: A candidate can’t usually become well-known nationwide without coverage, and they don’t get coverage if they’re not well-known. Media does not impartially observe fame; it participates in creating and withholding it, too.
  • There are 540 billionaires in the U.S. (2016 numbers). Schultz is no exception. While he may be prominent among his peers as former Starbucks CEO and Seattle Supersonics owner, he is not known for influencing government or politics as other billionaires are (e.g. Bill and Melinda Gates, Charles and David Koch, Michael Bloomberg).
  • In giving Schultz a town hall, CNN actively creates a place of prominence for him in the political arena, a favor the vast majority of the declared candidates will never experience.

TAKE ACTION

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WE WILL NO LONGER BE SILENCED

GOAL

  • Inform CNN’s audience about how corporate media influences the political process
  • Encourage CNN to engage in responsible reporting by being transparent about their political leanings and decision making
  • For CNN to provide equal airtime to candidates that meet their transparent, objective criteria for a serious candidate.

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