Hillary Clinton’s home town hall advantage

Is America already experiencing Hillary fatigue? Clinton’s hour-long town hall style interview with CNN barely edged out MSNBC’s “The Ed Show” in the 5 p.m. television ratings.

CNN must have suspected that the event might lack energy. The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple reports that “CNN deployed an enthusiastic stage director who coached the audience to applaud at various points throughout the broadcast.” In addition, the producer ran the audience through a practice round of applause and noise-making about 15 minutes before the event, which Wemple describes as “Clinton friendly,” began.

The “audience-prodding” paid off, Wemple says. He believes, however, that many of her standard-issue liberal answers on topics like gun control and immigration would have been applauded in any event.

Wemple is probably right. After all, the town hall was held in “this town” — Washington D.C., where President Obama won 91 percent of the vote in 2012.

But applause is one thing; raucous expression of enthusiasm, such as that which greeted a question about Clinton’s decision on running for President, is another. As noted, CNN’s audience was coached not just on applauding but also on “noise-making.”

Should a supposedly serious, nonpartisan news outlet be drumming up enthusiasm for a candidate as she is interviewed on its network? Surely not.

Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, has studied the role of applause at such events. She told Wemple that a cheering audience “at some point…becomes an editorial statement, it’s a part of what is broadcast; it becomes a part of the program and that’s why we have tried to do exactly the opposite [during presidential debates].”

CNN understands this. It wanted to make an editorial statement on Clinton’s behalf, something it almost certainly would not have done for a Republican candidate.

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