CNN Accused of Bias Against Third Parties By a Post-Debate Focus Group Participant

By replacing "third party" with "undecided" as an option, is the network doing the bidding of the two-party duopoly?


Undecided, really?

During and after Tuesday's Vice Presidential Debate, CNN hosted a 28-person focus group of self-identified "undecided voters" at the University of Richmond (Va.). One of the participants in this group—Justin Smith—later complained on his Facebook page that CNN's Pamela Brown had asked the group if they now intended to vote for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or an unnamed third party candidate. In Smith's telling, two supported Trump, five supported Clinton, and 12 indicated they would vote for a third party candidate.

But, Smith tells Reason, the producers then told the focus group they were going to "reshoot" the segment, only this time they replaced "third party candidate" as an option with "undecided." Smith says this caused confusion among the panel, leading some who had just raised their hands for "third party" to now raise their hands for "undecided."

An important difference between the two questions: the cameras were only airing live on CNN during the "undecided" question, whereas the "third party" question was taped.

Watch the segment that aired live—with "undecided" as an option as opposed to "third party"—below:

Smith's Facebook post has caused a bit of a stir online, with accusations that CNN is censoring third party supporters to favor a narrative in which the only opinions worth considering are from voters who support Trump, Clinton, or have not yet decided between the two. The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald weighed in on Twitter this morning, offering his opinion that "If this account is accurate, it comes pretty close to actual fraud."

Though he has a "Evan McMullin for President" poster as his Facebook profile cover page, Smith tells Reason he is an undecided voter, it's just that he hasn't decided which third party candidate he will vote for. He calls himself a constitutional conservative and insists he will absolutely not vote for Trump and Clinton. For a while, he had considered voting for Constitution Party candidate Darrell Castle, but he's not on the ballot in Virginia, so Smith is now on the fence between voting for McMullin or Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.

Smith says CNN producers told the focus group they would be taping certain questions as segments that might be used by CNN shows the next morning—a common TV news practice. Smith added that each of the questions they had been asked as a group had been taped twice. As a former cable TV news producer myself, I can attest that shooting more "packages" than you're likely to need is standard operating procedure. It's entirely possible that there was no nefarious intent on the part of CNN behind the creation of a taped package which included third party as a voting option.

But the fact is, when the cameras went live, Brown didn't give the group the option of choosing a "third party." Live TV viewers were left with the impression that the majority of the focus group was undecided between Trump, Clinton, and no one else.

"I was shocked that they would purposely not put it out there that people were supporting a third party," Smith told Reason, adding, "Intentionally covering that up…I can't imagine what their narrative is."

CNN did not respond to requests for comment.

Is it just an odd turn of events that the "undecided" question went out on live TV while the "third party" question went to tape? It's not clear whether the latter ever aired the next morning and I haven't been able to find a clip of it on CNN's website, but sometimes producers are left with more content than they can use. It's also important to note that CNN hasn't ignored third parties this election cycle; they have aired two Libertarian town halls in recent months, after all.

However, editorial choices—such as deciding which questions get aired with the most viewers watching immediately after a debate, while others may or may not get airtime at all—matter.

By prioritizing the idea that undecided voters are only choosing between Trump and Clinton, especially knowing that a great many of them are not undecided between the two but had in fact just affirmatively rejected the binary choice moments earlier, CNN (unwittingly or not) helped perpetuate a narrative that third party supporters are just undecideds who haven't yet come around to the correct line of thinking.

NEXT: The GOP Should Be Obamacare's Death Panel

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  1. I am shocked, yes shocked, to find that gambling is going on in this establishment.

    Your winnings, sir.

    1. ‘Play it again Sam’.

    2. I only work about for 12k- $15k hours a week from home. Im using an online business opportunity I heard about and I’ve made such great money. Join the many successful people who have already started freelancing over the web. Visit this web and go to tech tab to start your work…

  2. It’s CNN, if this election hasn’t taught you how awful they are, nothing will.

    1. May I fix that for you?

      It’s CNN, if this election pretty much all their coverage hasn’t taught you how awful they are, nothing will.

    2. The problem is, what news channel is the better alternative?

    3. Look, everyone knows that the Clinton News Network is completely unbiased. They told us so themselves, so it must be true.

  3. Trump/Clinton vs. The Third Parties. Who would win?

    1. Is it a hundred duck-sized Trump/Clintons?

      1. No. One hundred Trump/Clinton-sized ducks, and they are MAD.

        1. And they all want Sun Chips.

          1. Don’t even joke, dude. When i was a kid, i got attacked by a flock of Muscovy ducks who wanted my Sun Chips. Dozens of toddler-sized waterfowl charging at me, hissing. It was terrifying.

          2. Can I get a loaf of bread and some other people?!

  4. Intentionally covering that up…I can’t imagine what their narrative is.”

    You think they’d been rebranded the Clinton News Network by accident?

    1. Well, to be fair, they were all-in for Trump during the primaries. It’s not their fault they didn’t realize what a flawed candidate he was until after he’d won the primaries. You might think they’d have learned from making the same mistake in 2004 and 2008, not realizing until after the primaries what evil Nazi bastards the “moderate” Mitt and “maverick” McCain were. You’ll be able to read all about it in the slew of journalistic mea culpa campaign tell-alls that will be coming out next year examining the question of where exactly the Trump phenomenon came from and whether or not the media did their job properly in giving Trump all that free air time early on only to balance it out with transparent Hillary-shilling when it really mattered. (Spoiler alert: The conclusion will be that the media erred in giving the people what they wanted in covering Trump like the freak show he was but they’ll do better next time by adhering to their sacred duty to inform and educate the populace.)

      1. That’s OK, they’ll make up for it next time around when the next reincarnation of Hitler runs for president, and they’ll reminisce about when the Republicans had reasonable leadership like Trump around.

        1. Wait, you’re talking about Chelsea *already*?

  5. I’m just surprised CNN hasn’t gotten as blatant as “Are you undecided between Clinton or eating raw puppies?”

    1. Clinton eats her puppies live.

    2. “Are you undecided between Clinton or eating raw stealing puppies from children. bashing their skulls apart on rocks in front of them, and devouring their still-quivering carcasses while laughing maniacally in their faces?”


      1. Ah, thanks. I hate when I do typos like that.

        1. I’ll do just about ANYTHING for Hilary, even vote for Her, if ONLY She will promise NOT to set Her puppies free, and / or shove them in my face… It is a nightmare that often wakes me up in a cold sweat…

          1. Our models of politics, they are a-changing? Old model? Aspiring MALE politician goes out, goes about the business of baby-kissing and puppy-kissing? Puppy-eating will NOT do, sorry?
            The NEW model of politics? Aspiring FEMALE politicians will need to go out, and set their puppies free, and let the voters kiss their puppies! Reverse the kissing action; we wanna be kissers, not kisses! But these female politicians will need to be YOUNG and fartile-looking! Retire the Hillary, bring on the Chelsea! And have her set her puppies FREE!!!!

  6. University of Virginia in Richmond

    Uh, no. Getting America’s Public Ivy mixed up with that snooty-ass bastion of daddy’s boys at U of R is inexcusable.

    1. Wahoowa

      UR is nothing more than a safety school for rich preppie kids from New Jersey who don’t get into Duke.

    2. Hah, I worked with some interns from U of R before and they were horrible entitled little shits. We ended up not hiring any of them.

      1. U of R is the University of Rochester, halfway across town from where I went to College

        1. I would have to agree (being from there) but I bet every R-town has a “U of R”.

        2. We’re talking University of Richmond, broheim.

          They could afford to have some pretty good bands play their student center, at least. Most of the shows i went to there were packed with VCU hipsters.

        3. University of Richmond is usually abbreviated as UR, not U of R.

          1. Ur is a city in Mesopotamia

        4. St. John Fisher? 😉

    3. UR alumn here.

      Yeah, you’re pretty much right.

  7. Why don’t they just put that video they edited of Hillary, bathed in divine light, and ask the participants if they like that hillary, or the one not bathed in divine light?

    CNN, changing the news since… a long, long time ago.

    1. What does this have to do with clowns?

      1. I… I don…

        *looks back at article to make sure I didn’t post in wrong thread*

        I honestly have no idea.

        1. The sighting of a creepy clown was recently reported by concerned citizens in Clinton Township.

          Last week we alerted our readers to Insane Clown Posse’s statement about those incredibly creepy clown sightings happening around the country. In short, their PR guru Jason Webber said the reports of clowns trying to lure children into the woods are really nothing to worry about. These things happen, you know.

          And while our fears were hardly quelled by this dismissive statement, we did find some truth in the idea that this is just “jackasses being jackasses.”

          Well, folks, on Sunday morning those sightings hit a little closer to home.

          1. And now the Clinton News Network!

  8. It’s not bias against third parties. It’s bias against any party other than the Democrats. At this point, the Democrats believe that third parties pose a threat to their run. So, CNN is opposed to third parties. If Gary Johnson was taking more votes away from the GOP, they’d be all for third parties.

    1. Exactly. If including the third parties meant Hillary’s lead was say 15 points, we wouldn’t stop hearing about them.

  9. is the network doing the bidding of the two-party duopoly?

    CNN seems to be doing the bidding of the one party monopoly, in case you failed to notice any of their Trump coverage.

  10. It’s hard to believe that a prestigious news organization like CNN could be guilty of bias.

    It’s like we can’t trust anybody to tell us what to think anymore. Things keep going like they are, and we may soon have to start thinking for ourselves!

  11. He calls himself a constitutional conservative and insists he will absolutely not vote for Trump and Clinton.

    I hope CNN fired whoever let him into the focus group.

  12. CNN? Establishmentarian bias?

    Why, you could knock me down with a feather!

  13. CNN did not respond to requests for comment.

    “We’re a news organization, we don’t respond to news like this!”

    I wonder what it’s like strolling the halls of CNN. They must be a rabid-assed bunch of hillary supporters over there.

    1. My guess is that the rank-and-file, who aren’t celebrities nor wealthy, keep their mouths shut if they aren’t progtards.

  14. “Fox does it too.” – Tony, probably

    1. If Fox did do it too, then that would tell you all you need to know about CNN.

  15. If Reason read the comments they’d have had this story 2 days ago.


      1. So it’s squirrelz all the way down?

        1. That’s “up” — squirrel all the way up.
          Remember your place in the proper order of things. Or they’ll haul out Shika to explain it all to you.

  16. When/where did this bullshit myth about there ever having been an “unbiased” media come from, anyway? News rags were generally known to have their own biases back in the days of “yellow journalism”, but then for some reason when news was dominated by the Big 3 broadcast networks, people bought into this nonsense that there was absolutely no spin or discretion in what was covered and everything was the unvarnished truth. Which of course is bullshit. So why/how did that myth take hold?

    1. When/where did this bullshit myth about there ever having been an “unbiased” media come from, anyway?

      The media.

    2. The media itself came up with the myth, of course. What I say 3 times is true. As long as all three networks told the same story as the NYT gave it to them, there was nobody to say otherwise.

    3. When/where did this bullshit myth about there ever having been an “unbiased” media come from, anyway?

      The concept is actually fairly short-lived.

      I think even in the days of radio, there was a strong predisposition to assume very heavy editorial bias in ALL forms of news-reporting. The 1920s-40s, melodramatic, stentorian, jingoistic news-broadcaster is a stereotype typical of the period.

      I think the myth of the “unbiased” news was part of selling people TV-journalism; and that newspapers actually borrowed the pretense from TV-news after the fact. Establishing unimpeachable credibility involves simply assuming that posture in the first place. I think in the older days of news-radio, there was little attempt to hide the fact that the reporters were just there to help sell Geritol (or whomever their sponsors were); the blend of advertising and news was readily apparent. but with TV, i think there was a sense of a ‘Chinese wall’ between the marketing and the broadcaster which lent them some pretend-authority.

      Why did it take hold? I’m going to guess it was the Cold War. It was a coincidence that the emergence of TV-news coincided with a strong awareness of an international, geopolitical struggle… and that the “free press” news media were an example of a vital difference between ourselves and the Red Menace. “We weren’t spoonfed propaganda… LIKE THEM!!” etc.

      1. I think G is onto something here.

        You have to remember that TV was originally a government-regulated utility, because of the broadcast licenses. To justify the closed ecosystem of the big three networks, they had to put out a pretense of being public-spirited and politically neutral.

      2. Actually, it is a bit older than that. It was a marketing gimmick created by the yellow journalists (e.g. Pulitzer, Hearst) to differentiate themselves from the politically owned competitors (e.g. the Democrat, the Plain Dealer, etc.)

        1. That makes sense.

          I think the TV-thing might have served to simply help whitewash the entire industry of ‘news-reporting’, and get rid of the idea that heavy-bias was in fact the norm.

          Newspapers were always competitive and attempting to serve various niche-communities; TV was the first “one source for everyone”, and that ability to transcend regionalism and partisan politics was part of their competitive appeal vs. the print sources. Newspapers then had to follow suit.

  17. Third party candidates are taking votes from Cankles. CNN is totally in the tank for Cankles.

    I would be shocked if they weren’t biased against third party candidates. They aren’t the only ones, we have been drowning in ‘don’t waste your vote’ ads and articles from nearly every publication.

    It is lovely to see everyone losing their mind over Trump. It has gotten to the point where I want the guy to win. The hypocrisy, lying, wailing, moaning and gnashing of teeth will be epic and beautiful. That kind of entertainment cant be had for any price.

    1. when i looked at the figure of 14756 dollars .Than I have no other choice but to accept , what i saw .They have been doing this for a year and get rid of their debts… Yesterday they purchased new Aston Martin ………….

    2. I am personally morally unable to cast my vote for Trump because of his rejection of free trade, free speech, and free religion, but God do I hope he wins for the schadenfreude value.

  18. Speaking of tongue baths and the people who give them…

    “I prefer to be behind-the-scenes and stay behind-the-scenes,” the famously private Abedin told hosts Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman in March. “It does take a village to support Hillary Clinton. I am part of that village ? I help keep the trains moving on time.”

    Some people tuned into Clinton-world gossip believe Abedin could play a role somewhat like Valerie Jarrett’s if Clinton wins the election. Jarrett, the White House staff member most intimately involved in the Obama family, holds the title “senior adviser” and uses it to delve into a wide range of issues (some might say too many).

    Then again, Abedin is like a daughter to Clinton (the affection is mutual: on the podcast, Abedin called her “one of the greatest American women in the history of the world”); she’s not the sister-mother-“First Friend” figure the Obamas have in Jarrett. So some envision Abedin as an assistant to the president or deputy chief of staff instead. Either post could allow her to remain, literally, at Clinton’s right hand.

    Come on, Huma- only one of the greatest women in the history of the world?

    1. “I prefer to be behind-the-scenes and stay behind-the-scenes,” the famously private Abedin told hosts Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman in March. “It does take a village to support Hillary Clinton. I am part of that village ? I help keep the trains moving on time.”

      What’s creepy is this is someone who likes her.

    2. Second only to Mary I of England.

    3. I help keep the trains moving on time.

      wow, that’s almost too easy….can’t resist…

      You know who else would help keep the trains moving on time?

        1. +1 this


          That and George Carlin.

      1. The Lionel Company?

      2. Burgermeister Meisterburger?

      3. Pocket watches?

      4. John Candy?

      5. Ringo Starr as Mr. Conductor?

      6. Jenna Jameson?

        1. I would have gone with the Yardbirds, but still works

    4. In Abedin’s defense, every significant breakdown of the rule of law occurring in the past 30 years – breakdowns that have pretty much doomed the U.S. government as a going concern – have had Hillary Clinton playing a central role.

      If that doesn’t make one one of the most significant historical figures, nothing will.

      1. every significant breakdown of the rule of law occurring in the past 30 years

        do you have a list handy? just curious.

        1. Basically, the Clintons pioneered having people who weren’t part of the government doing government work – remember the first lady’s task force on health? Recently ruled to be exempt from FOIA because she wasn’t part of the government.

          You had the Travelgate scandal, and her hiding records from the Rose Law firm in her office. The Democratic party were so desperate for power, they closed ranks around the Clinton’s and essentially ended the post Vietnam idea that the execuitve couldn’t be above the law.

          She was a big cheerleader for the Iraq war, the Patriot Act and the national security state.

          And, of course, her actions – creating a permanent policy of the U.S. government murdering both american citizens and foreigners overseas, her destruction of FOIA, and her suborning of the FBI to cover for her blatant influence peddling are widely known.

          Her entire career has been devoted to eroding the rule of law so that she could do whatever she wanted.

          If she had been an honest woman, it’s highly unlikely we’d be living under the unitary executive with a pen and phone.

    5. Come on, Huma- only one of the greatest women in the history of the world?

      Depends on how you weight graft and dishonesty.

    6. It does take a village

      Is there a more disgusting meme than this?

      This week the news was full of village-fan Deblasio taking “responsibility” for some POS thug beating his girlfriend’s kid to death – because it was “our” fault the kid “slipped through the cracks”. No mention of the thug who, you know, killed the kid.

      1. Is there a more disgusting meme than this?

        It seems to just be a handy rhetorical form of ‘collectivizing everything’.

        Whenever you want to claim the problem isn’t ‘specific’, but one of simply “not enough govt“, well… It Takes a Village, bro.

      2. The tragedy of the commons applied to parenting has to be the most tragic. But hey, a few kids dying is a small price to pay for more Democrat voters /Hillary’s likely mindset

      3. It would be one thing if “it takes a village” meant “it’s extremely helpful to be part of a community of likeminded neighbors,” but it always seems like state coercion ends up being involved.

        1. Good point CX!

        2. Yeah, it could easily be interpreted in the manner you state, but the speaker usually means, “it takes me as village leader backed by a cadre of armed goons to make sure everyone falls in line.”

        3. This is exactly the pernicious and ugly thing about it.

          “It Takes a Village” appeals to the community-fetishism of the left, but it exactly doesn’t mean the kinds of communities that the left fetishizes. It means replacing those communities with a substitute, fictional community in the form of the US Federal Government.

          It is doublespeak at its most masterful.

    7. “I help keep the trains running on time”

      Surely she didn’t say that. Really?

  19. Glenn Greenwald:

    Is it really necessary to spend next 6 months pointing out that “criticism of Clinton” ? “support for Trump”? Just get a different tactic.

    Oh Glenn, if Hillary wins the next 8 years of your career will be your most difficult.

    1. Why? Don’t they have the internet in federal prison?

  20. “For a while, he had considered voting for Constitution Party candidate Darrell Castle, but he’s not on the ballot in Virginia, so Smith is now on the fence between voting for McMullin or Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.”

    You can let him know that, according to ballotpedia and the Constitution Party itself, Darrell Castle is a write-in candidate in Virginia.

    You just have to be able to write his name.

    1. By the way, I’m surprised the SJWs haven’t abolished write-in voting because it discriminates against the illiterate.

      I hope I didn’t give them ideas.

    2. A vote for Darrell Castle is a vote for freedom!

      1. Is he the guy from the TV show who used to captain the Serenity?

        1. +1 Stana Katic

  21. “CNN hasn’t ignored third parties this election cycle, they have aired two Libertarian town halls in recent months, after all.”

    That was back when the Clinton Camp thought that third parties would pull from Trump’s support. Once the polling data started to show they where taking from Clinton, their third party coverage changed.

    1. Yeah, and airing those town halls separately as mere curiosities, “get a load of these guys” carnival shows, is worlds apart from actually acknowledging their existence in the contest of the “serious”, “real” debates between The Only Two Parties That Really Matter.

      1. ^ This.

  22. According to his facebook page;

    “Justin Smith A Libertarian Future

    This sentence in the story is incorrect:

    “The rest of the votes were as follows: two for Trump, five for Clinton, and twelve for third party candidates.”

    Here is a picture of the dial we used to vote for baseline questions. I have no way of knowing how everyone voted before the debate.

    The rest is accurate.”

  23. It is not just the media, polling firms are writing narratives that are counter to the poll numbers they are reporting. Earlier this week the Wason Center for Public Policy did a poll for Virginia. Their own write-up kept emphasizing that Clinton had picked up support as of an earlier poll two weeks ago and that her gains came mostly from Johnson under every demographic. As the pollsters did not ask if you switched, from whom did you switch, just looking at numbers can give you a distorted view of which voters are shifting and where. For example, look at the breakdown by sex (male), Clinton goes from 32 to 36 percent, Johnson goes from 15 down to 13 percent, Stein goes from 4 down to 1 percent and undecided/neither goes from a combined 6 to 4 percent. I could interpret that as Clinton’s gains coming mostly from Stein and undecided voters. But what really caught my eye was that they also state “The Libertarian lost ground in every demographic segment,?” Except that Johnson (and Stein and Trump) picked up ground among blacks. Funny that their summary made no mention of that. They were 4, 1 and 4 percent (respectively) in the September 26 poll and are now at 6, 3 and 7 percent (respectively)for this current poll.

    1. Who are the main customers of the polling firms? they produce the product their customers want; not the one that “the public deserves”.

      Its sort of reminiscent of how ‘consulting firms’ work for to big corporate interests. The standard practice is to meet w/ executives and have a roundtable session figuring out what they want the conclusions of the work to show.

      Then the firm goes out and does lots of studies and SURPRISE draw conclusions consistent with the client agenda.

      Then the client waves the study in front of Investors, Consumers, Regulators, etc. and says, “SEE?! These Independent Experts Have Concluded That What We Want to Do is The Best Idea Ever!?!!”

      Its a good gig if you don’t have any sense of shame. You visit a lot of nice hotels, and have lots of comped meals in nice restaurants.

  24. One also wonders why this sort of thing isn’t considered an in-kind political donation by CNN’s parent company.

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