Gay YouTube General a Hillary Plant – So What?

The blogosphere is abuzz over the revelation that Keith Kerr, the 74-year-old retired Army colonel and California National Guard general who stunned the candidates in last night’s YouTube debate with the announcement that he was openly gay, works for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Jonathan Martin describes the question itself as “a powerful moment.”

A retired Army general, Keith Kerr, just listed all his military credentials and then left the crowd silent by saying at the end of his video that he is “an openly gay man” and wants to know why gays can’t serve in the military.

Romney was hit by Anderson Cooper with a past statement (imagine that) saying that he “look[ed] forward” to the day gays could serve. Pressed hard by Cooper about whether he had changed his mind, Romney plainly looked displeased. “This isn’t that time,” Romney first said, noting the national security threats. He said the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy “seems to have worked” and, toward the end, even drew some boos (it was tough to discern exactly why).

Kerr, present in the audience, was then introduced by Cooper and said he didn’t feel as though he got an answer. Explaining why, he got his own boos (partially snuffed by some shushing).

It all made for some feet-shuffling and floor-staring among the gathered Republicans.

Martin notes,

Oh, my tireless colleague Avi Zenilman back at Politico World HQ does an insta-search on Kerr and discovers he was on the Steering Committee of “Veterans for Kerry.”

It turns out that Kerr’s political activism goes further. Within minutes of the question, several conservative bloggers typed his name into search engines.

Adam Yoshida quickly discovered that Kerry is a member of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Presidency. He also wonders “who put a seventy-four year-old guy up to asking a question on YouTube.”

NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez passed on the word and it went viral.

Matthew Balan reports that, “Keith Kerr was known to CNN as a gay activist as far back as December 2003, when he was featured in this CNN article.”

Townhall‘s Jonathan Garthwaite reports, “In the final seconds of the post-debate coverage, Anderson Cooper acknowledges that CNN messed this up and states that CNN did not know that Kerr has a position within the Clinton campaign and that had they known, they would have disclosed the association.”

Wizbang’s Kevin Aylward ain’t buying it:

CNN would have you believe that out of all the people THEY selected to ask video taped questions of the Republican presidential candidates the this evening at the CNN/YouTube debate they had no idea that Keith Kerr, retired Colonel., U.S. Army; retired Brigadier General, California National Reserve, was a member of a Hillary Clinton LGBT Steering Committee. Nor did they know was on the National Veterans for Kerry Steering Committee in 2004.


Anderson Cooper would have you believe that a network that could select this question, find that 13-year-old Romney quote, create the trap for Romney (which he fell face first into), and (presumably) fly Kerr to the debate, could not type “Keith Kerr, retired Colonel” into Google and find the link to the Hillary Clinton press release, which prior to the debate appeared in the first 10 results for that search?

There’s lot of talk about the Clinton campaign “planting” Kerr or otherwise being in cahoots with CNN. Hot Air‘s AllahPundit gets it exactly right, though:

As incredible as it may seem, given all the flak they took for not vetting questioners after the last debate, CNN not only approved a question from someone affiliated with the Clinton campaign without identifying the affiliation, they invited him to the debate so that he could ask a follow-up. One of the lefty blogs whined after my post about the last debate that those crazy wingnuts shouldn’t be surprised to find former state Democratic Party officials asking questions at what was, after all, a Democratic Party event. Okay. Should I not be surprised to find a Democratic campaign operative — not just from this campaign but from the last one too, per the end of this post — asking questions at the Republican debate either?

Just identify the guy, CNN. His question’s perfectly fair. And, apropos of nothing, Hunter’s answer is awful.

CNN should have done due dilligence and reported Kerr’s affiliation, which is certainly relevant. But his question was absolutely a fair one. Sure, it reinforces my criticism of the YouTube Debate‘s pretense of presenting ordinary people asking real questions rather than engaging in the “gotcha” games that journalists play.

At the same time, though, it buttresses the point that Steve Grove, Head of News & Politics at YouTube, made in his interview with me that the video format and use of “real people” add a context that makes the questions more powerful. Certainly, having a gay man with 40 years of distinguished service ask the question makes it much more poignant — and awkward to answer — than if it were just a hypothetical posed by a CNN anchor.

That doesn’t get CNN off the hook. Michelle Malkin reports that Kerr wasn’t the only “plant” in this debate. Within three hours after the debate, she had found no less than half a dozen of the questioners who are obviously Democrats and active supporters of Democratic candidates.

Again, who these people are doesn’t invalidate their questions. But what are they doing asking questions in a Republican primary debate? The point of these things is to help Republicans decide between candidates for their party nomination. If anything, shouldn’t CNN be seeking out Republican questioners?

Indeed CNN executives themselves acknowledge the problem:

CNN Senior Vice President and Executive Producer of the debate, David Bohrman, says, “We regret this incident. CNN would not have used the General’s question had we known that he was connected to any presidential candidate.”

They simply should have known. If lone bloggers can vet these people in less than half an hour, surely CNN’s crack journalistic team should have been able to do so between the time they selected the pool of questions and the airing of the debate?

The Weekly Standard‘s Richelieu, unaware of the controversy, nonetheless called it “a depressing debate.” Taking on his namesake’s character, he writes,

I feel lucky to be from an earlier century where your own founding fathers knew that the secret to government is to protect it from the daily mob. Clearly the boundless paranoia of middle-aged media executives about the kids and their mysterious “Internet” has led them to stoop to this kind of pandering foolishness. They should feel shame tonight.

So, a good night for for the lowest denominator, a bad night for the GOP. America got to see a vaguely threatening parade of gun fetishists, flat worlders, Mars Explorers, Confederate flag lovers and zombie-eyed-Bible-wavers as well as various one issue activists hammering their pet causes. My cheers went to a listless Fred Thompson who easily qualified himself to be president in my book by looking all night like he would cheerfully trade his left arm for an early exit off the stage to a waiting Scotch and good Cuban cigar.

If one didn’t know better, one might suspect that CNN intentionally assembled a bunch of yahoos in the crowd to represent the Republican base and then fed the candidates gotcha questions from Democrats in order to make them look bad. That would be entertaining, I suppose, but horridly bad journalism. It’s perhaps more hopeful to think that they simply didn’t bother to vet the questioners. Of course, that’s not exactly good journalism, either.

Since CNN is known for its fine journalism, however, there’s almost certainly a third alternative explanation. It eludes me at the moment.

UPDATE: Wizbang‘s Jay Tea offers up a new CNN slogan: “If It’s News To You, It’s News To Us.”

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, 2008 Election, Blogosphere, LGBTQ Issues, The Presidency, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Christopher says:

    Yet it is Republicans that put up with CNN, and Dems, like little spoiled children, that boycott FOX.

    You decide.

  2. IU says:

    Last sentence: I believe it _eludes_ you.

    Fixed, thanks. Not sure why I always mix that one up.

  3. sam says:

    But his question was absolutely a fair one.

    That’s really the crux, right? Now, if he’d asked a question about animal rights with specific reference to dogs and cars…

  4. Triumph says:

    The fact that Hillary cavorts with Gay Generals and sends them out to attack Republicans is not nearly as troubling as the fact that her Democrat rival, B. Hussein Obama, is a Moselem.

  5. Quinn says:

    This kind of thing still surprises me when I hear about it!

    I think its just the idea that CNN believes they could get away with it without really trying to cover their tracks.

  6. Cernig says:

    Firstly, isn’t this meant to be a democracy?

    Secondly, shouldn’t Republicans want to choose a candidate who has a proven ability to effectively field pointed questions from the opposition – or know about it if none of their candidates can?

    Thirdly, conservo-shrill Jim Gerahty asks “So, Can Republicans Ask Questions at the Next Democratic Debate?” Why not? They did at the last one. And more power to them, I say, because the considerations above should also apply to Democrats thinking about which primary candidate to support.


  7. Davebo says:

    I’ve got to go with Cernig here. There appears to be a double standard, and a rather silly one at that.

    But I have no doubt we’ll see the next audience of a debate signing loyalty pledges.

  8. jpe says:

    Contra cernig, whether or not the GOP wants its candidates to field obviously Dem questions should be up to the GOP, not CNN, to decide (I saw a number of reasonable questions last night, which suggests questions from Democrats. half-kidding). OTOH, the GOP didn’t contract to vet the questions, so I don’t see why there’s so much fuss on the right.

  9. Bilby says:

    That’s right. Because it’s a Democracy we’re not supposed to notice or care about campaign operatives from the other party being featured in a Republican debate. I guess CNN is simply caving to anti-Democratic sentiment by apologizing for something that’s only to be expected in a Democracy. Besides, Media Matters has possible Republican plants!

  10. Cernig says:

    If the GOP wanted the debate to be GOP only, they could have held it behind closed doors and not asked a major media outfit and YouTube to get involved. They opened the doors themselves.

    Regards, C

  11. Quinn says:

    CNN has now lost all credibility. I predict that CNN will call it quite within 2 years from now.

  12. Quinn says:

    CNN has now lost all credibility. I predict that CNN will call it quits within 2 years from now.

  13. Bilby says:

    Yeah, the GOP should just suck it up and accept that Democratic campaign operatives are doing the questioning. At least it’s not Tim Russert piling on by asking tough questions.

  14. Third alternative: intentional incompetence.

  15. Quinn says:

    Fourth alternative: A Republican operative posing as a moderate liberal who works at CNN organized those videos knowing the kind of reaction it would get – taking people’s minds away from the abhorent policies some of the candidates endorse (i.e. Giuliani’s baby butchering, pro-gay marrying) and give further evidence that CNN is a liberal news network whose letters stand for Clinton News Network.

    That actually seems more plausible then the idea that CNN so blatantly messed things up.

  16. markm says:

    The worst thing about this, to me, is the openly gay General sounded like a had a coin shot wrapped around his voice box. Blech.

  17. Why was anyone, let alone this general, allowed to ask a question from the audience, and then given a platform when he didn’t like the answers he was given?

  18. Orlando F. says:

    The question was fair. I don’t care where it came from. Until we return to real DEBATES not the bullcrap silliness that mocks debate (since Kennedy- Nixon) we will continue to get crap responses. Crap in, crap out.

    Oh, gays should have rights and women should have a right to choose. Period.

  19. Keith says:

    This simply reveals that CNN, like most other organizations claiming to be “news” shows, are actually the “stenographers” that Stephen Colbert accused them of being over a year ago. Sure they could vet their questioners, but that’s so much work. It’s far easier to take what they say at face value.

    In any case, the General’s question was valid, and it was nice to see all the candidates squirm on this one. As much as they hate gays (or at least want to use them to win elections) they at least had the decency to look a little uncomfortable.

    What they don’t know is that more and more independents and even conservatives are starting to see that anti-gay discrimination is wrong, however they personally feel about the issue itself. I’m sure they lost a few votes on that question.

    How ridiculous did they look trying to explain why the rest of the world can have openly gay people serve in the military without incident but the great and power US is so scared?

    Finally, and most importantly, Mitt was wrong when he said “now is not that time.” During wartime is *exactly* when they stop gay soldiers from being discharged. It’s during peacetime that they will happily throw them out. But when bodies are needed to carry rifles, suddenly they stop processing them out and let them stay in combat zones, ironically forcing them to do the very thing they say gays are incapable of — fighting alongside other straight soldiers in “close quarters”.

  20. MSgt Weiss says:

    Wow – so the Dems managed to troll up a colonel who was a Secret Fruit while serving in the California Nat’l Guard ? You did notice that all his service was as a weekend warrior, didn’t you, and that his only active duty was as a corporal during Eisenhower’s first term ?

    Bet you didn’t know that he’s only a COLONEL, either. In California (what a surprise), it’s common to give retiring Guard colonels a title of “general” in something called the “California National Reserve” — a basically nonexistent state entity that has nothing to do with the Army or the National Guard. Any suggestion that this guy is a retired Army GENERAL is simply a lie. This so-called “general” designation has exactly the same validity as the Honorary Colonel title given out by Tennesee and Kentucky. He’s as much a general as Colonel Sanders was a real colonel, and claiming to be a retired general as dishonest as calling yourself “Doctor” based on an “honorary degree.”

    It is fraud, and illegal, for him to claim he is a retired Army general, and a violation of Federal law for him to wear it on his Army uniform, except perhaps during “California Reserve” ceremonies (if any). Of course, this will make no difference to the illiterati that, like Clinton, “detest” the military.

    Since he never served even near combat, he’s probably unaware — as most civilians — that the reason his Blood Type is on his dog tags is because in combat he functions as a blood bank for the guys in his squad … by direct transfusion. Considering the unbelievably high rate of STDs, particularly HIV, among young gay males, accepting them as soldiers is simply unacceptable.

    Never mind that this cowardly little weekend warrior spent his whole career lying about his activities just to keep his part-time military status, and apparently had no problem lying on every security clearance update when he was asked if there was anything in his history that might reflect unfavorably on the service or subject him to potential blackmail.

    His career was far from remarkable, garnering nothing beyond the usual “glad you were here” that field-grade officers get automatically. I was only a 21-year sergeant, but my awards are far higher than his.

    Those too ignorant to know any better might lionize this pathetic, lying old mountebank, but those of us who served, told the truth, and took our oaths seriously are embarrassed that we hired him for weekend work.

  21. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    For those who think it is ok to have plants from the opposition in the audience asking questions. Answer this one. What would happen if the GOP sent infiltrates to a Dem. debate? They would be hollering all the way to nowhere. Hillary Clinton has no sense of fairness let alone honesty or decency. Lastly, to Orlando. Gays have rights, just not extra ones. You cannot marry your sister or close relative because of the expectation of offspring. Do you expect any gay relatives to have offspring? Women do have choice. That choice is whether or not to have unprotected sex. Choice also has responsibility, something liberals know nothing about as they want the government to be responsible for everything.

  22. Cernig says:

    Any suggestion that this guy is a retired Army GENERAL is simply a lie.


    General Kerr is a graduate of the Intelligence Orientation Course, the Imagery Interpretation Course, the Army Intelligence Advance Course, the Special Forces Officer Course, the Civil Affairs Advance Course, the Inspector General Course, the Command and General Staff College, and the U. S. Army War College.

    He retired from the U. S. Army Reserve in 1986 with the rank of Colonel and was commissioned in the California State Military Reserve (California National Guard) on 15 March 1986, where his assignments were Inspector General and later, Chief of Staff. He was appointed Commanding General, Northern Area Command, CSMR, with headquarters at Alameda Naval Supply Depot, Alameda, CA and promoted to Brigadier General on 21 February 1991. He held this position until reassigned to State Headquarters on 31 July 1995. General Kerr retired on 1 June 1996 after 43 years of service to the United States and the State of California.

    Regards, C

  23. just me says:

    I confess I didn’t watch the debates. And I don’t even know the specifics of the question this general or any of the other operatives asked.

    I do have a third option as to why: A combination of laziness and liberal leaning journalists combing through questions are probably going to choose questions that pique their interest-so you may have ended up with some questions that seem to have a more “liberal” worldview bent to them, and laziness on the part of the journalists to find out who these people actually were.

    I am kind of uncomfortable though with having actual campaign operatives for a specific candidate or even party asking questions as if they were non partisan. I guess I am one who likes to be aware of where bias may lay-and while I am okay with anyone being invited to ask questions, if they work for or actively support a campaign of some other candidate, I think journalists are at least obligated to reveal that.

    But questions are questions, and candidates should be prepared to answer a large range of questions, and if they can’t they should probably rethink their candidacy.

  24. Cernig says:

    The California State Military Reserve is the state defense force of California. The military reserve was formed to provide California a trained and organized military force in the event of a state security emergency when the National Guard is deployed. Its current mission is to assist the National Guard especially in concern to homeland security…The most recent large-scale operation of the CSMR was during Operation Fall Blaze in October/November 2007, where 100 citizen soldiers of the CSMR were integrated with their National Guard counterparts to assist firefighters fight the California wildfires.

    I wonder if MSgt Weiss thinks these firefighters are likewise “cowardly little weekend warriors”?

    Regards, C

  25. Cernig says:

    I’ve an idea – lets have a set of debates where all the questions explicitly come from registered members of the opposing party. It would be good for democracy and good for the parties themselves, who want to know their eventual nominees can withstand curveballs as well as softballs. Those afraid of such questions are really afraid of how the public would view their answers.

    Regards, C

  26. Christopher says:

    Yet it is Republicans that put up with CNN, and Dems, like little spoiled children, that boycott FOX.

    You decide.

  27. Grewgills says:

    Why was anyone, let alone this general, allowed to ask a question from the audience, and then given a platform when he didn’t like the answers he was given?

    Where you similarly outraged when they did the same at the Dem debate?

    For those who think it is ok to have plants from the opposition in the audience asking questions. Answer this one. What would happen if the GOP sent infiltrates to a Dem. debate?

    Apparently not much. Take a look at the questions asked at the Dem YouTube debate. They looked for the “gotcha” questions for both debates.

    Do you expect any gay relatives to have offspring?

    Should infertile couples be denied marriage rights?

    If we are going to talk about who is crying like babies, you should look over at RedState. They (almost all contributors have signed on) are actually calling for a do-over. I think the last time I heard that I was on a grade school playground.

  28. Splitting Image says:

    I don’t see any problem with the question, or with the questioner being in attendance. It was advertised as a YouTube debate, and YouTube is not owned by the Republican party, as far as I know. They should have been aware that some questions would have come from Democrats or independents and the candidates should have been able to answer them.

    I also have no problem with limiting an event like that to Republicans only (or Democrats only, as the case may be). There are people who can vote in primaries who would not be able to vote in caucuses and nobody blinks at that, so I don’t see a problem with having some debates that are party-only and others that are open to all. Candidates need to do well in both arenas anyway.

    The only problem with what happened the other night is that CNN didn’t seem to know whether what happened was against the rules or not, and that is a bad thing no matter how you look at it. You can’t moderate a debate unless you know what is supposed to be going on.

  29. floyd says:

    It is amazing that ANYONE could think that these Media Circuses from either side could somehow be construed as DEBATES![lol] The questions have the character of the “commands” at a pet training academy,soliciting an expected response.

    Hey, maybe literally having them jump through their trainer’s hoops, sitting up, begging, and playing dead, would be more entertaining, AND more appropriate for the circus atmosphere![lol]

  30. Christopher says:


    What does redstate have to do with actual presidential candidates? Dems candidates said NO to FOX. These are people who want to lead the country and they said no to a mainsteam news organization.

    Republicans are grown-ups. Democrats are wacko! Too bad the dems are so good at swaying the masses so many times.

  31. Bruce Moomaw says:

    Please, people. CNN didn’t vet the questioners at the democratic YouTube debate to filter out Republican questioners, either — as the LA Times confirms:

    “A review by the Los Angeles Times of the debate sponsored by CNN and YouTube four months ago found that the Democratic presidential candidates also faced queries that seemed to come from the conservative perspective. At least two of the citizen-interrogators had clear GOP leanings…

    “CNN’s [Sam] Feist said conservative commentators did not complain when questioners who shared their political ideology had videos aired during the Democratic forum in July.

    “During that session, one video questioner asked the candidates to choose between raising taxes or cutting benefits in order to save Social Security. Another demanded to know whether taxes would rise ‘like usually they do when a Democrat comes in office.’ A third featured a gun-toting Michigan man, who in an interview Thursday said he had voted twice for President Bush, who wanted to know if the Democrats would protect his ‘baby’ — an assault rifle he cradled in his arms.

    “Another questioner from that forum who seemed to have clear conservative credentials was John McAlpin, a sailor who asked Clinton: ‘How do you think you would be taken seriously’ by Arab and Muslim nations that treat women as ‘second-class citizens’?

    “McAlpin’s MySpace page features pictures of Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor and Republican presidential candidate.

    “It depicts Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly as a friend, while offering a caricature of a bearded, turban-wearing ‘Borat Hussein Obama’ — a derogatory reference to Obama, the Democratic candidate who as a youth attended a Muslim school.”

    This isn’t a tempest in a teapot. It’s a tempest in a thimble.

  32. Bruce Moomaw says:

    As for Fox News being “a mainstream news organization”: please. It’s managed by Roger Ailes, whose real status we’ve known about ever since Joe McGinniss introduced him to us as Richard Nixon’s awesomely cynical ad manager back in “The Selling of the President 1968”. If there was possibly a way he could arrange for this debate to be an ambush of the Democratic caandidates, he would have done it — and in any case there was no point in the Dems providing free prestige to a “news outfit” explicitly developed by Ailes, Rupert Murdoch and Newt Gingrich as a GOP propaganda organ during discussions back in 1996. It would have been like the GOP candidates agreeing to appear at a debate managed by Rahm Emanuel.

  33. Bruce Moomaw says:

    This just in , by the way, on the subject of “planted questioners”, from Wash. Post reporter Glenn Kessler on Condoleeza Rice’s willingness to do it in order to try and re-burnish her reputation after the Iraq fiasco.