Last week it was reported that Sarah Isgur Flores, a GOP hack who has never worked as a journalist, will be joining CNN as one of the network’s “political editors.” The exact contours of Isgur’s role remain unclear (due to CNN’s lack of transparency), but it appears she will be helping to shape the political coverage of an outlet whose agenda-setting power plays a large part in determining which stories receive national attention and how they are covered.
The arguments against this move are numerous and obvious: Isgur is a longtime Republican political operative who most recently served as a spokesperson for former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a position she gained after personally pledging her loyalty to Donald Trump. She has no experience in journalism, yet her job will now be to help guide its production. She has previously denounced CNN as the “Clinton News Network.”
In her role at the Justice Department, Isgur defended the administration’s war on leakers and will now be working with reporters who have confidential government sources; her abundant conflicts of interest have forced CNN to silo her off from vast swaths of political news. This seems like a handicap for someone in an editorial role.
For CNN the appeal seems simple: It suggests that the network is doubling down on its false notion of neutrality: a defensive, “both-sides-are-the-same” kind of political coverage that fails to both prevent Trump and the Republicans from attacking them (which they will do regardless), and more importantly, serve the public.
CNN has consistently failed to grapple with this form of false balance. Cable news networks traditionally hire a coterie of partisan contributors and turn them loose to discuss the issues of the day. This leaves viewers confused about what’s actually true and what isn’t as a representative from one party denounces a person or policy while the other excuses it. As a semi-famous saying goes: “If CNN covered sports, every game would be a tie.”
The results of this frame of mind have been grim. CNN has stocked its greenrooms with Trump lackeys, paying a motley assortment of shills, grifters, and extremists to lie to its audience under the guise of being “neutral” and (I suspect) trying to show Trump that they’re not “Fake News™.”
Many of these hires are ethically dubious, handpicked by the president himself or subject to nondisparagement agreements making them contractually forbidden from criticizing Trump on air. In perhaps the most embarrassing case, the network hired (and defended the hiring of) former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to comment on the election even though he was bound by an NDA and was still on the Trump campaign payroll.
The network wants to look like it is being “fair” to Trump, an allowance he has not earned, so it continues to shove these people in front of its cameras.
Like many newspapers and broadcast news outlets, cable news networks received a lot criticism for their false, “both-sides-are-equally-bad” coverage of the 2016 election. However, CNN doesn’t seem to be learning any lessons about their “neutrality-at-the-cost-of-all-else” coverage, or the type of people they are hiring.
When lies and the truth are given equal consideration, it serves the purpose of the liars.