UMass Students: Rock The Vote “A Joke”

Gin Dumcius

Barely a week after a Brown University student came out and revealed CNN planted a question at the Rock The Vote debate earlier this month, some students are voicing complaints on how the Democratic presidential candidate debate was handled.

Two UMass Boston students are saying they are upset with the type of questions that were asked at the debate.

“After the first break went on, we were like, what the hell, is this a joke? Is this what we’re here for? You know, to ask questions about PC or Mac or baseball management? I’m sorry, those things are not important. That’s not what we go to college for,” said Maria Luisa Plasencia, a twenty-one-year-old sociology major. One of the questions asked of the candidates included their preference of computers – PC or Mac – and what they would do if they were Grady Little, the now-former manager of the Red Sox. “I personally spend more time educating myself and having intellectual conversations than [thinking], ‘Well, should I buy a PC or a Mac?’ That’s not one of my priorities.”

Plasencia sat in the section geared to questions on the economy and education. There was a girl next to her from New York, she said, as well as two people from Vermont and a person from Boston.

Also in the famed Faneuil Hall, where the debate took place, was Bryan Smith, a student senator from UMass Boston’s College of Management, who called the questions “outrageous” and “dumb.”

While stating that he was glad to be there, and that he would go again, Smith pointed out that no one from a public school was asking the questions. “No public school got recognition for anything,” he said.

Plasencia said she was in a “state of shock” after the last question, from a Tufts University student, about whom the candidates would party with if they were given the chance.

“We were both like, what the hell just happened in there. She did not just ask that as the closing question. I found that ridiculous, disrespectful, degrading… I don’t know, it was just-I was so upset. I couldn’t believe they did that.”

Said Plasencia, “They had an opportunity here to really get the non-voting group from 18 to 25, 30, you know, the ones who rarely vote. Which I think, out of all the people who are capable of voting they’re the least who will do it. And they had the chance of getting these students involved. I for one am not politically involved.”

Plasencia, a member of Casa Latina, a student center for Hispanic Americans, said she was “gung-ho” when she got the chance to go. “Right now, from what they showed me, I was like, ‘Forget politics.'”

Latinos weren’t mentioned at the debate, she said, with the exception of candidate Carol Mosley-Braun, who said, “We have to as Democrats begin to engage a civil conversation among ourselves, how we can get past that racist strategy that the Republicans have foisted upon this country, how we can bring southern whites and southern blacks and northern blacks and northern whites together, how we can come together to reclaim this country -and Latinos, and Asians, and Christians, and Muslims, and Jews, and Protestants.”

Mosley-Braun added the last part after a woman from the audience yelled out “And Latinos!” according to Plasencia.

“And that’s even more upsetting, because if you look at the census and the stats that just came out, they’re the largest minority group,” she said of Latinos and the lack of representation. “And they have the potential of voting. In their countries, they are highly, highly politically involved. So for them to come here and not be politically involved is really strange. And to exclude them entirely is pushing that voting group away even further.”

A small media firestorm arose after revelations of CNN planting the PC or Mac question. Alexandra Trustman, the Brown University student who asked the question, responded to criticism from fellow students in an op-ed piece in the Brown Daily Herald, the campus’s student newspaper, and revealed that a CNN producer had changed her originally complex question on technology into a Clinton-esque boxers-or-briefs one.

“I had to make the decision whether to actively participate in Rock the Vote by asking a question that wasn’t mine and wasn’t representative of me as a Brown student, or to sit in the stands uninvolved,” she wrote.

CNN spokesman Matthew Furman told The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, “In an attempt to encourage a lighthearted moment in this debate, a CNN producer working with Ms. Trustman clearly went too far. CNN regrets the producer’s actions.”

Plasencia criticized Trustman, saying, “As for the girl coming out and saying now, ‘Oh no, CNN prepped me to say that, I didn’t say that by choice’-why would you accept saying it? Why didn’t you just say ‘I’m not going to ask a question like that,’ and sit down?”

Others were also wondering about other questions. On Jim Romenesko’s media industry blog, Robin Sloan, an interactive learning producer for the Poynter Institute for journalists, was a “little suspicious” of whether the question of “Would u reinst8 draft?” was for real. “Anybody at CNN want to confirm that it did in fact issue forth from a hip twentysomething’s cell phone?” he asked in Romenesko’s letters pages.

It was soon revealed that the question was indeed text-messaged from a hip-twenty-something, a young Democrat, and Howard Dean supporter by the name of Jim Gilliam, who has his own blog.

“I sent in the text message ‘Would u reinst8 draft?’ The debate was the same day that I read the Salon article about filling draft board vacancies. I deliberately sent it so it looked like a text message in the hopes it would be asked. It worked!” he wrote on, adding that he supports the draft and would serve if drafted.