Dems cancel debate due to strike



NEW YORK -- The Democratic National Committee late Wednesday pulled the plug on the CBS News-sponsored Dec. 10 debate that was imperiled by candidates unwilling to cross the writers strike picket lines.

The DNC cited the "uncertainty" created by the writers strike as the reason for the cancellation. The debate will not be rescheduled. Several candidates, including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, had already said that they wouldn't attend if the writers actively picketed the Los Angeles venue.

CBS had reached out to the union to see if a temporary truce could be reached to allow the debate to go on but didn't get an answer. The candidates, who are spending most of their time in Iowa and New Hampshire due to the caucus and primary early in January, needed to set their travel plans in stone. So the DNC pulled the plug.

"The possibility of picket lines set up by the Writers Guild of America and the unwillingness of many candidates to cross them made it necessary to allow the candidates to make other plans," CBS News said in a statement released Wednesday. In a related development earlier Wednesday, The Writers Guild of America East denied that the union was planning to set up Dec. 10 as a strike date against CBS News.

While disappointing, CBS News isn't going to lose that much with the cancellation of the debate. The debate, one of a string this primary season on broadcast and cable networks, wasn't going to air nationwide on CBS in any event. The event was going to moderated by "CBS Evening News" anchor Katie Couric but appear only on West Coast CBS affiliates, via the Web sites of other CBS stations and appear nationally on C-SPAN.

It also was canceled in enough time to allow CBS News to spare the large amount of time and money in setting up the final stages of the debate.

In a joint statement Wednesday, WGA East and WGA West expressed "regret" about the cancellation.

"This was triggered by CBS' fear that the Democratic candidates would not cross a picket line by WGA-CBS News writers or WGA Film and TV writers to participate in the debate – a concern that could have been avoided entirely if CBS would simply sit down and negotiate a fair contract for its news and entertainment employees," the statement said. "Instead, CBS chose to make a decision that stifles the democratic process."

In a response, CBS said that network's officials contacted the WGA leadership two weeks ago with a request to suspend the picketing for a few hours on Dec. 10.
"Our request was met with silence," CBS statement said. "Their statement today clearly misrepresents our attempt to have a civil discourse with the Guild so that this event of national importance could proceed."