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CNN denies feeding Parkland student scripted question at town hall

Posted Thursday, February 22, 2018 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

CNN said it did not feed a Florida school shooting survivor a “scripted” question during a town hall forum on gun violence Wednesday night.

Colton Haab, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. where 17 people were killed by a single shooter last week, wanted to pose a question about placing more armed guards in schools.

“CNN had originally asked me to write a speech and questions, and it ended up being all scripted,” Haab told local ABC affiliate WPLG. “I don’t think that it’s going to get anything accomplished. It’s not gonna ask the true questions that all the parents and teachers and students have."

CNN, in a statement, said that is not true: "CNN did not provide or script questions for anyone in last night’s town hall, nor have we ever. After seeing an interview with Colton Haab, we invited him to participate in our town hall along with other students and administrators from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Colton’s father withdrew his name from participation before the forum began, which we regretted but respected."

A source told Huffington Post that Colton wanted to read a lengthy speech. His father Glenn Haab told HuffPo his son wanted to offer some background and three questions. He said CNN only wanted him to ask one quick question and Glenn said that wasn't sufficient so they pulled out.

The network offered airtime for Haab to speak on the network at another time.

Haab supports having qualified teachers carry fire arms. "Unfortunately, gun control, it’s definitely needed a little bit more,” Haab told Fox News on Saturday. “I believe that if we did bring firearms on campus to teachers that are willing to carry their firearm... if they got their correct training for it, I think that would be a big beneficial factor into school safety.”

During the shooting, Haab protected his some of his fellow students using Kevlar marksmanship sheets.

Fox News and Huffington Post received email exchanges from Haab's father and a CNN producer that omitted key words. This is how CNN portrayed it:

Colton Haab's family sent HuffPost and Fox News their emails with CNN producer Carrie Stevenson about the question Colton might ask at the town hall. Amid this controversy, HuffPost and Fox asked CNN to verify that the emails were authentic. And then it was discovered that some key words were taken out of one of Stevenson's emails to alter the meaning.

"This is what Colton and I discussed on the phone that he submitted," Stevenson wrote to Haab's father. But the emails the Haab family provided to HuffPost and Fox were missing the words "that he submitted." The doctored email makes it sound like Stevenson dictated a question to him, which is not the case. Colton submitted his question. Later, his family decided not to participate in the town hall.

A CNN spokesman said, "It is unfortunate that an effort to discredit CNN and the town hall with doctored emails has taken any attention away from the purpose of the event. However, when presented with doctored email exchanges, we felt the need to set the record straight."

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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.