Great piece by Margaret Sullivan on CNN hiring a political operative with no actual experience or expertise in journalism as a political editor:
A few months before the 2016 presidential election, Sarah Isgur tweeted some advice to Donald Trump: “The only 3 words that should be coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth this week are: ‘Clinton’ ‘foundation’ ‘emails.’ ”
But that kind of helpful counsel wasn’t enough.
In early 2017, Isgur was summoned to meet with President Trump in the Oval Office, where she needed to pledge her loyalty to be named the Justice Department’s spokeswoman by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Now CNN has hired Isgur — who has no journalism experience and once slammed her new employer as the “Clinton News Network” — as a political editor.
The network, under heavy fire for the move, was insisting by Tuesday night that she wouldn’t be directing political coverage, although that surely is what a political editor might be expected to do.
Isgur is helping to “coordinate coverage across TV and Digital,” a spokesman told Vox, and will be “making sure that stories are featured on the right shows and articles get posted online at the right time.”
That sounds a lot like damage control.
But why CNN made this move to begin with is the deeper and more troubling question.
It strongly suggests that the network’s big thinkers — including head honcho Jeff Zucker — are aiming for a kind of false fairness: a defensive, both-sides-are-equal kind of political coverage that inevitably fails to serve the voting public.
This approach is not guided by what’s good for citizens, but by a ratings-first effort to position the network in the middle of Fox News Channel on the right and MSNBC on the left.
At a time when so many talented and experienced journalists are out of work because of layoffs in a teetering industry, this makes even less sense. There are countless better choices out there.
Far from being reformed from a time when it aired Trump rallies live during the 2016 primary season and let the candidate call in by phone to comment on this and that, CNN seems to be doubling down on a ratings-first, fair-in-name-only approach to politics.
That’s a shame and — as an extraordinarily consequential election approaches — it’s dangerous.
To its credit, CNN has plenty of high-performing reporters and editors.
What it lacks is a public-spirited mission, articulated at the highest level and backed up with every hire and decision.
And one of the highest-paid “journalists” at CNN is the guy who wrote more than 50 stories about Clinton’s email server before the first Democratic primary debate in 2015.
It’s also worth noting that the Times simply eliminated Sullivan’s old position, because questions like “should coverage decisions be based in innumerate assumptions that one candidate is guaranteed to win and should be treated as the president-elect?” are ones the paper’s editors don’t believe should even be asked.