In an informative session last week at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker addressed the rise of Donald Trump, CNN’s role therein, Don Lemon, ratings, public-service journalism and more. And of course, Zucker wasn’t getting out of there without speaking to the controversial hiring of Corey Lewandowski, the former Trump campaign chairman who has been lighting up panel discussions as a CNN political commentator in recent months.
This blog disputed that line of thinking.
In another session during his Harvard visit, Zucker elaborated a bit on the outrage that has attended the hiring of Lewandowski, who acceded to CNN shortly after he was fired from the Trump campaign. After making the argument — often repeated — that voices like Lewandowski’s are important to competent coverage of campaign 2016, he riffed a bit on a talking point that is often aimed directly at his organization, according to a person who attended the session:
Pressed further on Lewandowki’s ties to Trump, Zucker said, “What he’s there to be is to provide his point of view and his insight into Trump and the Trump phenomenon. Nobody objects to the fact that many of our Democratic analysts have nary a negative word for Hillary Clinton, and so I do think there’s an inherent media bias when people attack on that side and don’t attack on the Democratic side.”
For the record, this blog has indeed raised questions about CNN’s Democratic contributors and wishes that all political hacks would vacate payrolls at all news outlets.
That said, Zucker cannot straightfacedly group the Lewandowski hire in with other commentators at CNN, or other cable outlets, for that matter. There are just too many extenuating circumstances that corrupt CNN airwaves. Here are some of them: When he was Trump’s campaign manager, Lewandowski bullied and grabbed reporters; he is apparently bound by a nondisclosure/nondisparagement clause that prevents him from ever saying anything even neutral about Trump; he continued receiving severance pay from the Trump campaign until just last month, at which time the campaign finished the deal with a $100,000 payment; and Lewandowski continues to play some role in the campaign, even traveling with the candidate.
There’s an additional consideration. Like many of his Trumpite peers, Lewandowski injects distortions into the political debate at a rate that outstrips the network’s stable of right-leaning and left-leaning commentators, as CJR’s David Uberti has helpfully chronicled.
So the criticisms against the CNN-Lewandowski partnership rest not on bias, but on facts. When defending the hire of Lewandowski and his fellow pro-Trump CNNers, Zucker notes that his existing roster of conservative commentators didn’t align with Trump’s brand of Republican politics. There’s a reason for that.