Moderator and CNN host Anderson Cooper asked the final question of the night about Ellen DeGeneres. Picture: AFP
Moderator and CNN host Anderson Cooper asked the final question of the night about Ellen DeGeneres. Picture: AFP

CNN panned over weird debate question

AMERICAN news network CNN is copping heat over its broadcast of the Democratic primary debate today, for ignoring a number of key issues and choosing to end on a bizarre note.

A large field of contenders vying to be the party's candidate for US president at the 2020 election gathered in the state of Ohio to battle it out.

Co-hosted by CNN and The New York Times, three moderators had two-and-a-half hours to grill the group, which included both frontrunners and outsiders, from former vice president Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Kamala Harris to former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg.

But viewers were less than impressed that key issues, from climate change to immigration and the detention of children at the border, weren't raised.

Instead, CNN host and moderator Anderson Cooper chose to end proceedings with a question about talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.

The popular comic sparked controversy recently when she was pictured chatting with former president George W. Bush at a football game.

Degeneres was criticised for being chummy with a man who instigated the deadly and costly war in Iraq, and was noted for his staunch opposition to gay marriage.

As the debate came to a close, Cooper asked: "Last week, Ellen DeGeneres was criticised when she and George W. Bush were seen laughing together at a football game. Ellen defended their friendship by saying, 'We're all different … and we've forgotten that that's okay that we're all different.'

"In that spirit, we'd like you to tell us about a friendship that you've had that would surprise us, and what impact it's had on you and your beliefs."

Cooper's question didn't go well, prompting swift anger on social media from viewers, political pundits and even candidates themselves.

Julian Castro, the former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and nominee hopeful from Texas, was clearly dumbfounded.

"Three hours and no questions tonight about climate, housing, or immigration," he wrote after the debate. "Climate change is an existential threat. America has a housing crisis. Children are still in cages at our border. But you know, Ellen."

Tommy Vietor, a former spokesman for president Barack Obama, was blunt in his assessment of the question.



Variety described the question as "nonsense" and "confusing", and accused Cooper of missing the point of the original controversy.

"If the CNN and The New York Times teams were determined to use the Degeneres controversy in this forum, they could have asked the question in a way that made the candidates seriously consider and explain when 'reaching across the aisle' is useful versus indulgent," an op-ed posted after the debate read.

"Instead of making the candidates reach in their back pockets for dusty anecdotes about a Republican being nice to them once, the moderators could have asked about what the candidates might have done about a friendship in which politics became personal."



Degeneres directly addressed the controversy on her show, defending her friendship and saying people can be friends even when they don't agree on all issues.

"Here's the thing, I'm friends with George Bush," she said.

"In fact, I'm friends with a lot of people who don't share the same beliefs that I have. We're all different and I think that we've forgotten that that's okay … Just because I don't agree with someone on everything doesn't mean that I'm not going to be friends with them."