From the February 17 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
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CNN contributor Alex Castellanos cited Mitt Romney's role with the 2002 Winter Olympics as evidence of the Republican candidate's consistency, even as Romney has campaigned against the very public investments that he once worked tirelessly to secure for those Olympics.
Weighing in on whether Romney shifted to the center during the October 3 presidential debate, Castellanos said: "The other Mitt Romney's that's always been there is this fix-it guy, this pragmatic businessman who transforms the Olympics, who invents a new way to do business in America." According to Castellanos, that Romney has always been there.
But in pointing to the Olympics, Castellanos picked a curious example to demonstrate Romney's consistency. After all, Romney took advantage of a sizable contribution from the federal government -- hundreds of millions of dollars -- to help transform the Salt Lake City Games in 2002. Taxpayers were so critical to helping Romney's bid to "save" the Olympics, he reportedly said, "We couldn't have done it without them. These are America's games."
Yet that same Romney -- the one Castellanos said has "always been there" -- has campaigned aggressively against taxpayer "bailouts," perhaps most notably in his criticism of the successful rescue of GM and Chrysler. An entire night of the Republican National Convention in August was centered around a dishonest attack on public infrastructure spending -- the very infrastructure spending the Romney who has "always been there" lobbied for to help build the Olympics.
Right-wing media are acting as de facto political advisers for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, offering the candidate an array of advice that includes replacing his staffers, finding "his inner pit bull," and talking more about his faith.
CNN contributor and Republican consultant Alex Castellanos waded into birther conspiracies to excuse Mitt Romney's refusal to disclose his tax returns, arguing that Romney should withhold his tax returns until President Obama "releases 10 years of birth certificates."
Noting the increasing pressure for Mitt Romney to release his tax returns, The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake reported:
"Let's say Mitt Romney released 100 years of tax returns tonight," said Alex Castellanos, a Republican media consultant who advised Romney in 2008. "What do you think the odds are that the Obama campaign would say, 'Oh great Mitt. Thank you! Now we can put that behind us and move on to more substantive issues like entitlement reform!' Zero."
Added Castellanos: "I'd advise Mitt to release 10 years of tax returns when Obama releases 10 years of birth certificates."
Castellanos appeared on CNN as recently as Tuesday.
This is not CNN's first brush with on-air personalities dabbling in birtherism. In 2009, Lou Dobbs spent several months exploring what he said were "new questions" about Obama's birth certificate - a campaign that eventually contributed to CNN's decision to part ways with Dobbs.
Castellanos' nod to the birthers is also at odds with comments he previously made expressing hope that the silly birther thing was finally over.
In April 2011, after Obama released his original birth certificate, Wolf Blitzer asked Castellanos whether that would finally end the birther controversy. Castellanos responded:
You know, we certainly hope so, because there's certainly enough serious issues confronting the United States and questions about President Obama's leadership. I mean, if we're going to release a long form, it would be great to see the longer explanation of how the president wants to spend more in Washington while reducing the deficit, how he's going to stimulate the economy while taking tax money out of it, how he's going to win a war in Libya while he's trying to get out of the war in Libya. There's a lot of other things we could talk about other than something I think the president has put to bed today.
It's difficult to put the birther issue to bed when people like Alex Castellanos invoke it when it serves their political agenda.
UPDATE: As Steve Benen noted, Castellanos' comparison of the birther conspiracy to Mitt Romney's undisclosed tax returns serves to whitewash the substantive, unresolved questions surrounding the candidate:
There are a couple of angles to this to keep in mind. The first is that really are legitimate questions that voters deserve answers to, and those answers are only available in the documents Romney is inexplicably keeping secret. No one is characterizing this as some kind of procedural hurdle that must be cleared; it's about resolving lingering, relevant questions about Romney's background.
Indeed, Romney publicly gave his word, on camera, that he would "go back and look" to let us know what tax rates he paid over the last decade, and it now appears the candidate will break that commitment without explanation.
As Democrats push for the Paycheck Fairness Act to address wage inequality between men and women, conservative media figures have claimed that there is no real wage inequality because men work more hours than women and thus earn more. But studies have shown that an earnings discrepancy between men and women persists, even when accounting for a variety of factors, including hours worked.
From the July 11 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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On October 15, 2009, the Republican National Committee paid $12,000 to CNN contributor Alex Castellanos, a payment that apparently violated CNN's stated policy. When contacted last week by Media Matters, Castellanos said he was initially unaware of the payment and returned it last year when he "found out."
"I was not aware of the payment because ours is a large business and an employee who handles and processes payments for me dealt with the RNC transaction," Castellanos said.
"CNN's preference and policy is that I don't work for the RNC or political candidates. When I found out that I was being paid by the RNC, I returned it," Castellanos said. "I wish I could keep it. I would like to add to the economic recovery."
According to its year-end Federal Election Commission report, filed on January 22, the RNC received $12,000 back from Castellanos on December 7, 2009.
In a statement to Media Matters, CNN said: "Alex told CNN that there had been a mix-up and the RNC had paid him when they weren't supposed to and as soon as he discovered it, he returned the money and then he let CNN know what had happened."
"Not only did Alex do the right thing by returning the money, he also demonstrated his independence from the party chairman by calling for Michael Steele to step aside," CNN stated.
In November, five weeks after the RNC sent Castellanos the $12,000 -- and approximately two weeks before the RNC reported it received the money back from Castellanos -- CNN responded to news that Castellanos "assume[d] a senior communications role at" the RNC by stating that he could simultaneously work for CNN and advise the RNC because his RNC role was "unpaid."
UPDATE: CNN's June 2 transcript misidentifies the speaker; it is Larry Sabato, not Alex Castellanos. CNN does have a history of ignoring Castellanos's conflicts of interest, but this is not an example. Original post follows:
The Washington Post, today:
BP has not ignored the GOP, which has been a crucial ally on Capitol Hill in tamping down calls from liberal Democrats to permanently ban drilling or lift liability limits for the company. … Brunswick has contracted GOP consultants Alex Castellanos and John Feehery to work on behalf of BP, sources familiar with the arrangements said.
CNN, June 2:
ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The longer the crisis goes on without a solution, the more people are likely to blame the president and his administration rather than just B.P.
Some obvious questions present themselves:
Was Alex Castellanos working for BP on June 2, or seeking their business?
If Castellanos had ties to BP by June 2, did CNN know about those ties? If so, why did CNN air Castellanos' comments about BP without disclosing his ties to the company? If not, has CNN taken any steps to ensure that it will be aware of similar conflicts in the future? Has CNN spoken with Castellanos about failing to disclose the conflict?
Does CNN have any policies requiring their contributors to disclose conflicts of interest?
If Castellanos had a conflict of interest at the time of the June 2 CNN broadcast, this would not be the first time he has had such an undisclosed conflict of interest. And if CNN looked the other way, that wouldn't be the first time, either.
UPDATE 2: Greg Sargent reports:
In a statement, CNN says that neither [Hilary] Rosen nor Castellanos will be invited on the air to discuss topics relating to BP. "Both Alex and Hilary are contributors used primarily to comment on political issues, and they are not being used to discuss the oil disaster story," CNN spokesperson Edie Emery emails me.
That's all very well and good, but there's an interesting larger issue here: Should networks ever turn their airwaves over to analysts whose selling point to clients is that they have influence with lawmakers currently in power?
One CNN analyst tells Sargent: "When contributors on the networks have agendas before the government they're analyzing, it is a blatant a conflict of interest."
At first, I was surprised CNN would hire Erick Erickson despite his long record of misogynist comments. Erickson has, after all, called Michelle Obama a "harpy" and used the Limbaugh-esque pejorative "feminazis" and suggested feminists are "too ugly to get a date" and told "Ugly feminists" to "return to their kitchens." That doesn't seem like the kind of commentary the self-styled "most respected name in news" would favor, does it?
Then I remembered Alex Castellanos. Castellanos is a CNN contributor and Republican consultant most famous for creating the infamous race-baiting "Hands" ad for Jesse Helms. He's used his perch at CNN to defend calling a woman a "bitch" and to compare Hillary Clinton to Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and to mock Nancy Pelosi's physical appearance.
And, of course, it was CNN's Headline News that first brought Glenn Beck to cable news.
So maybe Erickson won't be out of place at CNN after all.
Right-wing pundits are pointing to Martha Coakley's loss in the Massachusetts Senate race as evidence that President Obama and congressional Democrats should move to govern from the center, despite the fact that exit polls show that the Massachusetts election was not a referendum on Obama.
A quick follow-up on the CNN/Alex Castellanos flap. Last week, Media Matters revealed that CNN contributor Alex Castellanos' consulting firm works for the health insurance industry. In response, a CNN spokesperson said Castellanos' conflict of interest would be disclosed in the future. Then Greg Sargent revealed that Castellanos' firm is also producing anti-health care reform ads for the Chamber of Commerce.
All of which reminds me that CNN has long held the conservative Castellanos to a looser disclosure standard than it holds liberal contributors James Carville and Paul Begala, as I explained last year.
From Greg Sargent's The Plum Line blog:
One of Castellanos' firms, as you know, was the ad buyer behind a major insurance industry TV campaign against health care reform. His firm also has raked in nearly $500,000 from the Republican National Committee, which enlisted him to craft anti-reform talking points.
Here's one more interesting data point: Another one of his firms, Purple Strategies, also has a contract with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the most determined and well-funded foes of Obama's governing agenda.
J.P. Fielder, the Chamber's spokesperson, confirms that Castellanos' firm is doing the advertising on the Chamber's ongoing multi-million-dollar campaign hailing the virtues of the free-market system - which has the specific goals of derailing Obama's climate change and health care reform initiatives.
To be clear, there's nothing necessarily amiss here, and I wanted to take this occasion to clarify something. The reason we're digging into Castellanos is not because of Castellanos per se, but because his case tells a larger story about how Washington works. You hear a lot about the revolving door between government and lobbying. But there's another, less-remarked-on revolving door: One between consulting and commentary.
Media Matters for America has obtained evidence that CNN contributor Alex Castellanos' political consulting firm, National Media, is the ad buyer for the insurance industry group America's Health Insurance Plan's (AHIP) new ad blitz attacking Democratic health reform plans. CNN has a responsibility to insure that Castellanos' obvious conflict of interest does not tarnish their future coverage of the health care debate.
According to the detailed ad buy information obtained by Media Matters, Castellanos is responsible for placing, beginning October 11, more than $1 million of AHIP advertising in five states. Castellanos last appeared on CNN September 30; during a debate with Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) on The Situation Room, Castellanos defended Republican health care proposals.
If Castellanos returns to CNN's airwaves to discuss health care, it shouldn't be as a Republican strategist and CNN contributor, but as what he is - an industry spokesman. He shouldn't be arguing against Democratic strategists like Donna Brazile or James Carville, he should be paired off with progressive health care reform advocates like the leaders of Health Care for America Now. And -- it should go without saying - he must be identified as someone who is taking money from the insurance industry.
Last August, we noted that Castellanos - best known as the creator of the racially charged "Hands" advertisement - was hired as a CNN contributor three days after the New York Times reported that he was part of John McCain's "panel of outside advertising consultants." CNN subsequently failed to disclose Castellanos' connection to the McCain campaign while he was, for instance, applauding the McCain campaign's ads. If they hope to live up to their "most trusted" brand, CNN must do a better job of handling Castellanos' new conflict of interest.
UPDATE: A quick look at National Media's client list indicates that his work for AHIP isn't Castellanos' only conflict with regard to health care reform. National Media has done work for the Federation of American Hospitals, the pharmaceutical industry group PhRMA, and the HCA Sunrise Hospital. That's three more reasons CNN should label Castellanos as an industry shill, not a political analyst.
From the July 26 edition of CNN's State of the Union:
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