On 21 February 2018, a week after a gunman killed seventeen people during a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, a survivor of the attack accused CNN of trying to dictate what he should say during a town hall the event hosted to address gun safety arguments in the wake of the massacre.
Following the broadcast on 21 February 2018, Colton Haab, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, told local news station WPLG-TV:
CNN had originally asked me to write a speech and questions and it ended up being all scripted.
Haab, a member of the school’s junior ROTC program who protected some of his fellow students during the assault by using Kevlar marksmanship sheets, was shown on camera with questions he said he had written prior to the event. He said:
I expected to be able to ask my questions and give my opinion on my questions.
According to WPLG, Haab wanted to suggest that military veterans be employed as school security guards. But because CNN wanted him to ask “scripted” questions, he said, he opted not to appear. In a separate appearance on Fox News on 17 February 2018, Haab said that teachers who are willing to carry their firearm on campus and had received appropriate training would also make schools safer.
President Donald Trump also called for more schoolteachers to be armed during a televised meeting with survivors of the Parkland attack, when a gunman killed seventeen people. The network responded to Haab’s allegations on 22 February 2018 in a statement posted on its communication team’s Twitter account:
There is absolutely no truth to this. 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. We welcome Colton to join us on CNN today to discuss his views on school safety.
Haab reiterated his account in another Fox News interview on 22 February 2018. He said that a CNN producer first asked him to write a speech for the event, then asked him to submit questions. However, he said, the producer later asked him to ask one question (which appears around the two-minute mark):
What they had actually done is wrote out a question for me ’cause in my interview with CNN I talked about arming the teachers— if they were willing to arm [themselves] to carry on campus. She had taken that of what I had briefed on and actually wrote that question out for me.
CNN responded again on Twitter, saying:
There is absolutely no truth to this story — and we can prove that. CNN did not provide or script questions for anyone in last night’s town hall, nor have we ever. Those are the facts.
While a number of Douglas High students have advocated for tighter gun safety laws in the wake of the shooting — and been accused of being “crisis actors” since doing so — Haab is, to date, the only student to accuse CNN of trying to script their statements at the town hall event.
On the afternoon of 23 February 2018, CNN released its e-mail exchange between the network, Colton Haab, and his father, Glenn Haab, along with the following statement:
The Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action Town Hall was intended to be a forum for students, parents and teachers to speak directly to the elected leaders and stakeholders that are at the center of this critical issue. 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.
In the exchange, Glenn Haab had presented the network with several pages of “background points” that he wished his son to recite before asking a question of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida):
Ladies & gentlemen, lawmakers, fellow students, parents, teachers, faculty – last Wednesday will change our lives forever. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families of this horrific attack on our school. To me, it’s totally incomprehensible how this attacker was able to exit an Uber ride, walk into our freshman building and start shooting.
There’s been a lot of talk about Gun Control since this senseless attack. Many of my peers are in Tallahassee with lawmakers now – unfortunately yesterday did not go in the right direction for us.
I hope the much needed changes to Gun Laws can be made and implemented by the time the next generation (my kids) enters high school.
The way I see it- 3 main things have to happen:
1) Tighten up gun laws
2) Secure the school and make it safe
3) Defend the school
I BASED MY QUESTIONS TONIGHT ON #2 & # 3
The Number One responsibility of the Federal Government is: To keep Americans safe & secure.
We will be called back to school next week … How do we come back if Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is not safe?
Many of us students are afraid to go back until this school is safe & secure. Only 1 School Resource Officer cannot secure a 45 acre campus with multiple entry and exist points. So my 1st question is:
What is being done to drastically improve the security of the school?
There are armed security defending our President, Congressmen, court houses, IRS buildings, banks, jewelry stores, even the Smithsonian has guards with guns. Yet a gunman walked into our school’s freshman building with a rifle… and hero’s like Coach Fies ….unarmed… died trying to stop him. This is totally unacceptable.
Schools are defended with a sign that reads:
This is a gun free zone/it might as well also say:
(Call someone with a gun if there’s an emergency).
It is my opinion and the opinion of many – that this makes us an easy target for evil people to do their evil with little, if any resistance.
I personally would much rather see a sign that read:
“Please be aware that certain staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas are legally armed and may use whatever force necessary to protect our students”.
We students should not have to beg to be kept safe.
I ask you: are our students’ lives not as significant as court documents?
As tax returns? As cash money? As a diamond ring or a fine watch?
ARE our lives, our security & safety not as important as old dinosaur bones?
My 2nd question is:
What measures are being taken to defend our school from future attacks?
And how can we get select faculty trained and armed to give them a fighting chance, if GOD forbid, there is another attack?
There are over 450,000 unemployed Veterans living in the United States.
Many are able, willing & trainable and would find a real purpose in the job of keep our schools safe and defend our students & faculty against evil.
What steps can be taken to utilize our select retired military in this capacity?
Closing Statement: page 4
President Trump, Governor Scott, Senators Nelson, Rubio and Deutch, Sherriff Israel, Superintendent Runcie, Principle Thompson – I urge you, the student body urges you, our parents urge you: to secure our school.
We cannot wait for legislative Gun Law Changes to be approved and implemented. We are going to be called back to school next week. We need Action Now! We have attended way too many funerals this week.
We need to make MSD SAFE Now!
Secure all Broward schools, secure all Florida Schools and secure all schools across this Nation.
The Number One responsibility of the Federal Government is:
To keep Americans safe & secure.
We students should not have to beg to be kept safe.
Please secure our school from outside threats from evil people and give the right people the training & tools needed to defend our lives. It’s time for a change! Don’t let the 17 lives lost last week be just another statistic.
Is time to make MSD SAFE! MAKE AMERICA SAFE AGAIN
# MSD STRONG
In response, the producer wrote:
That really is way too long. These are quick questions so that we can get to as many people as possible.
This is what Colton and I discussed on the phone that he submitted. He needs to stick to this.
Senator Nelson, if Coach Feis had had his firearm in school that day, I believe that he could have most likely stopped the threat. Have we thought about having a class for teachers who are willing to be armed trained to carry on campus?
According to CNN, the elder Haab declined the invitation after the network rejected the full speech. He later reportedly admitted to inadvertently “omitting some words from the email.”
- 23 February 2018, 5:09 P.M.: Updated with CNN e-mail release; changed truth rating to reflect more information.
- Update [27 February 2018]: Updated with report that Glenn Haab admitted to changing email he received from CNN.
Burke, Peter. “CNN Refutes Parkland School Shooting Survivor’s ‘Scripted’ Question Claim.”
WPLG-TV. 22 February 2018.
de Moraes, Lisa. “NRA’s Dana Loesch Claims CNN Town Hall Attendees Rushed Stage Screaming ‘Burn Her.'”
Deadline. 22 February 2018.
Levenson, Eric. “Junior ROTC Student Helped Shield Dozens with Kevlar Sheets in Shooting.”
CNN. 16 February 2018.
Smith, David. “Trump’s Solution to School Shootings: Arm Teachers with Guns.”
The Guardian. 21 February 2018.
Fox News. “School shooting survivor: CNN told me to stick to script.”
22 February 2018.
Associated Press. “Shooting Survivor’s father admits email changes in CNN spat.”
Accessed via Tampa Bay Times. 27 February 2018.