They watched all too well

CNN rates great, but furor follows

After reaching a record for a primary debate on cable television this month, CNN surpassed it with Wednesday night's You Tube-GOP debate — and also ran into controversy about its handling of one of the questions.

The CNN-You Tube debate averaged 4.4 million viewers from 8-10:11 p.m. EST, according to data released Thursday by Nielsen Media Research. That topped CNN's Democratic presidential debate Nov. 15 in Las Vegas, in which 4 million tuned in. Wednesday's debate included 1.5 million viewers adults 18-49 as well as 516,000 adults 18-34 and 2.7 million viewers 55 and over.

Despite the strong ratings, CNN found itself in its second controversy in as many debates. The first had to do with CNN's failing to disclose that analyst James Carville was a big donor to Hillary Clinton's campaign; the network apologized and in Thursday's debate disclosed a lot about the analysts' backgrounds.

But conservative and other bloggers — including the influential Drudge Report — seized on a question about gays in the military asked by retired Brig. Gen. Keith Kerr. CNN checked Kerr's credentials thoroughly, including his military record and Federal Elections Commission records, to makes sure that he hadn't contributed to any candidate. But it missed Kerr's listing as a member of Clinton's steering committee for gay and lesbian supporters.

CNN Washington bureau chief David Bohrman said Thursday that the network had checked carefully but missed that fact. Bohrman told The Hollywood Reporter that if he had known, CNN wouldn't have used Kerr's question but instead one of several others that asked similar questions of the candidates.

"There were other ways to get at that issue," Bohrman said.

The miscue didn't prevent CNN from proclaiming the debate an editorial and ratings success. Bohrman said the idea was to create a truly Republican debate — one focused not on Clinton or the Democrats but rather on the issues facing the Republican candidates.

"I think it's the most pure Republican debate that has happened this whole cycle," Bohrman said.