Hillary Clinton's staffers have been caught red-handed. As the New York Times
reports, we now know of two campaign stops where Senator Clinton's aides fed questions to audience members. You see, it's easier to answer a question when your people have written it for you. The most recent incident--and the last, the Clinton camp assures us--was detailed by our own Mark Impomeni
. It occurred in Newton, Iowa. Grinell College student Muriel Gallo-Chasanoff was approached by a Clinton employee and asked if she'd deliver a specific question to the New York senator.
If you've ever had the feeling that campaigns are nothing more than hopelessly-staged photo opportunities, your skin just may be crawling by now. The question that Clinton's handlers (via Ms. Gallo-Chasanoff) asked Hillary?
Q: "As a young person, I'm worried about the long-term effects of global warming. How does your plan combat climate change?"
As a young person? So you see, Team Clinton scoured the audience, and found the demographic they needed for the question. They wanted to talk about global warming, and made sure that the topic would come up. Clinton's response was textbook message-control:
"Well, you should be worried. You know, I find as I travel around Iowa that it's usually young people that ask me about global warming."
The second known infraction of public trust took place last spring, when a man named Geoffrey Mitchell was asked by a different Clinton staff member to see if he'd be willing to ask a question on the Iraq war that contrasted the candidate's position with that of Barack Obama. Mitchell refused, and the staffer went elsewhere.
For her part, Hillary Clinton denies any knowledge of the planted questions.
"It was news to me," said Mrs. Clinton, of New York, "and neither I nor my campaign approve of that, and it will certainly not be tolerated."
With all due respect, of course the campaign approved of it. Could Hillary not have known the specific questions were coming? To quote the candidate, "Well, you should be worried." And if you think that these were the only two occasions that questions were fed to audience members, speak to me later about a New York bridge that has just gone up for sale.
Yes, the sheen of Clinton's inevitability is fading fast. Barack Obama is coming on strong. The Des Moines Register's David Yespen
declared Obama the winner of this weekend's Jefferson-Jackson pep rally in Iowa (Political Machine has video here
). The race is tightening in New Hampshire
. It seems fair to say that the downward spiral that began for Hillary at the Philadelphia debate continues. Next question?UPDATE
: Judging from the poll results below, many readers of this column seem to think that the planting of questions is standard practice for campaigns. Some have pointed to Jeff Gannon
, a right-wing White House correspondent who tossed President Bush softball questions that many felt came directly from the oval office staff. To be fair to Hillary Clinton, if you have documented examples, please leave evidence in the comment section of other times when a campaign seeded an audience with questions that it had written beforehand. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, they're all fair game.