That lame ending

Last week’s Las Vegas debate among Democratic presidential candidates ended on a particularly low note:

Maria Parra Sandoval: [My name is] Maria Parra Sandoval, and I’m a UNLV student. And my question is for Senator Clinton. This is a fun question for you. Do you prefer diamonds or pearls? [laughter]

Sen. Hillary Clinton: Now, I know I’m sometimes accused of not being able to make a choice. I want both.

CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux: Do we get to ask any of the other candidates or … just Senator Clinton?

U.S. Sen. Joe Biden: I’m for diamonds. Diamonds.

Sandoval: It’s the only thing—it’s the only thing shiny up there.

Malveaux: OK. Thank you so much.

CNN host Wolf Blitzer: All right. So on that note, diamonds and pearls, I want to thank all of the Democratic presidential candidates for joining us here this evening.

Sandoval was soon being subjected to harsh criticism. In a posting on her MySpace site, she said she had been instructed by Cable News Network to come up with several serious questions and several “fun” questions and that she wanted to ask a follow-up question on Yucca Mountain because it was one of her interests: “I did a policy memo on Yucca Mountain a year ago. … For sure, I thought I would get to ask the Yucca question that was APPROVED by CNN days in advance.” CNN said a question about Yucca had already been asked and the network wanted to end on a light note, so it was a “fun” question or none.

CNN more or less confirmed Sandoval’s account but did not explain why a news operation was screening the public’s questions in the first place, much less trying to set atmosphere with serious or light questions.