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Are Networks Being Fully Forthcoming About Their Campaign-Paid Contributors?

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Are Networks Being Fully Forthcoming About Their Campaign-Paid Contributors?

Corey Lewandowski appears on CNN's "OutFront" to comment on the Republican nominee's potential VP choices.

Last night, Anderson Cooper had an awkward exchange with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show, during which the host asked him about CNN’s relationship with former Trump campaign head Corey Lewandowski. Colbert was interested in the impartiality, or lack thereof, that Lewandowski might display because of his continued ties to Trump.

“You all are paying him and Trump is paying him… and he’s on your show doing analysis for a man he still gets cash from?” Colbert asked Cooper.

“Pretty much,” Cooper replied, with a bit of a stutter.

After being asked if Cooper still respects Lewandowski’s opinion, he hedged, saying, “We have people from all the campaigns… I mean, we have campaign surrogates for Hillary Clinton on.”

Cooper was attempting to make the point that campaign representatives were invited onto the networks all the time, to discuss the candidates they work for. This was a side-step, however, away from what Colbert was underscoring: that Lewandowski was not supposed to be a representative of Trump invited to make a one-time appearance on the network; he was instead a contributor being paid by CNN while simultaneously collecting money from the man he was hired to critique — or simply observe, as it happens.

Last month, nearly three weeks after Lewandowski was hired, CNN began to disclose that he was still receiving “severance” from the Trump campaign. Lewandowski later admitted that was still advising the Trump campaign, and continues to work at CNN.

Although Lewandowski’s hiring at CNN seems to run directly contrary to the idea of impartial coverage (especially considering Lewandowski signed a non-disclosure agreement and, knowing Trump, that may include language about disparaging Trump), there are several political “commentators” who regularly appear on networks that have significant ties to major political campaigns.

In fact, a report earlier this year by The Intercept found that networks frequently failed to disclose pundits’ ties to campaigns. The report cited several specific examples, including Stephanie Cutter, who is a political pundit often referred to as a “former campaign official for President Barack Obama,” but who has done work to the tune of over $100,000 for the Clinton campaign through her consulting firm.

Sara Fagen, who generally appears with the tagline “Republican strategist,” regularly appeared on CBNC during the primaries, and neither Fagen nor the network disclosed that the consulting firm she co-founded was paid over half a million dollars by the Bush campaign.

So it’s not just CNN: multiple networks seem to be deliberately keeping viewers in the dark about the true ties between their contributors and major campaigns.

When viewers do find out, however, there is often outrage, as has been the case with the Lewanowski disclosures. The WaPo report discussed CNN’s attempted reboot of Crossfire, and the heat the network took after having Rand Paul on the show, to whom host Newt Gingrich had given money. At no time was that fact disclosed on the show, of course.

Here’s the network’s response to the Crossfire SNAFU:

Crossfire hosts have never been required to disclose their contributions regarding guests on the show because their political support and activism are there for all to see. It’s obvious they support liberals or conservatives.

A non-response response like that indicates the network believes their viewership is dumb enough to accept it. Although it may be obvious which way a network host or contributor leans, the nitty gritty of funds being directly paid by major political candidates is often purposely obscured.

The responsibility is on the networks first to disclose to viewers that their coverage may be impacted by the presence of paid campaign surrogates, in all instances. The continuing employment of Lewandowski by CNN, however, indicates that networks aren’t concerned with transparency.

Photo: Corey Lewandowski appears on CNN’s “OutFront” to comment on the Republican nominee’s potential VP choices.



  1. TZToronto August 25, 2016

    I notice that network news shows often mention their networks’ ties book publishers or other corporately related companies when reporting on them because, I assume, they are required to do so. Political “pundits” who are being paid by campaigns should be required to reveal their partisan relation if they are being paid by the campaign AND the network. Viewers should be aware that the “analysis” they are hearing is more a paid political message than an unbiased analysis.

  2. runfastandwin August 25, 2016

    I expect anyone appearing on a network as an invited guest to be paid in one way or another (like what do we think “republican strategist” means? They are doing it as a hobby?) by the party or position they are supporting if not necessarily by the person they are supporting, unless there is a clear disclaimer. As any intelligent adult would expect. What I do not expect to see is a person employed by the network as an analyst to also be paid by the analyzee, unless there is a clear disclaimer. Which is not the case here, at least; further, it’s not made clear in this article that any of the examples cited compare to this particular situation.

  3. I of John August 26, 2016

    There needs to be far more clarity in media. Ethics has been on the decline. Who is on what payroll is important to know. Most of us don’t trust media info anymore and those who do are exploited for it. This is how crack pot conspiracies and out right lies become real problems.

  4. AF 70-74 August 26, 2016

    Yeah. I was wondering why, recently, CNN seemed to be allowing a cascade of Trump surrogates on their show? Oh I believe in allowing both side’s views; however, I notice the CNN moderator allows the Trump guys to interrupt while another person is speaking; and, once the Trump guys get a mike, the CNN moderator lets these guys ramble on and take over the show. (The moderator looks like he has no intentions in taking the mike back).
    Either CNN:
    1- Moderators are weak; 2- Moderators did not do their homework; and/or 3- is a Fox News vehicle.
    Wanted another network’s fair reporting in CNN; however, gotta go with MSNBC instead now.

  5. YeahNo August 31, 2016

    I pretty much dropped CNN like a hot potato after they hired Lewandowski. I doubt they’ll ever get me back as a viewer.


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