Right-Wing Media Seize On Inaccurate New York Times Report To Attack CNN's Begala

Right-wing media are seizing on a New York Times report that misleadingly stated that Paul Begala sought “talking points” from the State Department before a CNN appearance to discuss Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state to attack the CNN contributor as biased. But in the email in question, Begala actually requested a “briefing,” not talking points.

Recently-Released Email Shows Begala Requested “Briefing” Before CNN Appearance

Begala: “Who Should I Talk To At State About Getting A Briefing On What [Hillary Rodham Clinton] Has Accomplished In The First 100 Days?” In an April 2009 email released by the State Department as part of its disclosure of Clinton's emails, Begala asked then-State Department Chief of Protocol Capricia Marshall, “Who at State should I talk to about getting a briefing on what HRC has accomplished in her first hundred days? CNN is doing special coverage all night tomorrow, and we'll be rating HRC as well as the President. Any ideas who I should contact and how to reach her/him?” [Department of State, accessed July 2015]

At Time Of Begala's CNN Appearance, Americans Overwhelmingly Supported Clinton's Work

CNN Poll: 71 Percent Of Americans, Including Majority Of Republicans, Thought Clinton Was Doing A Good Job As Secretary Of State. A CNN poll conducted a month before Begala's CNN appearance found that the vast majority of Americans approved of Clinton's performance as secretary of state. From a March 25 CNN.com article:

As Hillary Clinton flies to Mexico for a high-level summit, a new national poll indicates seven in 10 Americans are happy with the job she's doing as secretary of state.

Seventy-one percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Wednesday said they approve of how Clinton is handling her job as America's top diplomat. Fewer than one in four disapprove.

“Nine in 10 Democrats approve of Clinton -- that's no surprise,” said Keating Holland, CNN's polling director. “But by a 50 percent to 43 percent margin, Republicans also think she is doing a good job at the State Department. That's an interesting result for a polarizing figure like Clinton.” [CNN.com, 3/25/2009]

New York Times Describes Begala As Seeking “Talking Points”

NY Times: Begala “Ask[ed] For Talking Points Before He Went On CNN.” The Times reported of Begala's emails: 

Mr. Begala responded by asking for talking points before he went on CNN to rate Mrs. Clinton's early performance. Ms. Marshall referred him to several State Department aides. After his appearance, Mr. Begala emailed back: “I gave Sec. Clinton an A+ in our dopey CNN report card last night.” Ms. Mills forwarded that to Mrs. Clinton with an “FYI.” [The New York Times6/30/15]

Right Wing Media Jump On The Times Characterization To Attack Begala

Mediaite's Joe Concha: “Talking Points” Request Shows CNN “Needs To Rethink Relationship With” Begala. Citing the Times story in an article headlined “Hillary Email Dump Shows CNN Really Needs to Rethink Relationship with Paul Begala,” Joe Concha commented:

No need to review and connect the dots here too deeply here. Begala asked the friggin' State Department how he should think on national television regarding Hillary Clinton's performance as Secretary of State. 


It's hard to imagine a scenario where this is a one-and-done kind of act. Partisans exist everywhere in cable news. That's understood. But this is written collusion between government officials and a veteran media member and therefore a whole new bowl of wrong. CNN needs to have a long conversation with Begala and ask him if he's done this kind of thing again and if so...how often. And regardless of answer -- because denial is likely the route almost anyone would take with so much to lose -- needs to really consider what to do with him next.

And soon. [Mediaite, 7/1/15]

Breitbart News: Email Shows Begala “Wanted To Be Properly Programmed.” Citing the Times article, Breitbart News reported:

The latest Hillary Clinton email data dump shows that CNN's Paul Begala wanted to be properly programmed by the Dept. of State and asked for talking points on Hillary's successes as Secretary of State. The talking points were then parlayed into an “A+” rating for Hillary on CNN's “report card” segment.

As the media and other interested parties comb through the latest email data dump, many Old Media types are saying that there is nothing to see in them. But several emails from CNN “news analyst” Paul Begala seem to show that instead of performing any legitimate analysis of the news, Begala was simply regurgitating State Department-approved Hillary talking points. [Breitbart News, 7/1/15]

Wall Street Journal's Taranto: Email Shows Begala Was Acting As A “Publicist” For Clinton. Citing the Times article, Wall Street Journal's James Taranto wrote:

Begala is not a reporter but a “political analyst” for CNN, so one cannot fault him for lacking objectivity. Plenty of such people discuss politics on cable news, and some of them occasionally even offer genuine insights. Not Begala. As Mediaite's Joe Concha notes: “Begala asked the friggin' State Department how he should think on national television regarding Hillary Clinton's performance as Secretary of State.”

Begala wasn't doing analysis or even partisan cheerleading. He was acting as a publicist for a government official who aspired to higher office. There's nothing wrong with that either, unless you're on the payroll of a news organization. [The Wall Street Journal7/2/15]

Fox's Bill O'Reilly: “Paul Begala Used His Own Network To Secretly Disseminate Secretary Clinton's Talking Points.” Fox News host Bill O'Reilly repeated the claim that Begala requested “talking points” from the State Department and characterized it as the “most embarrassing revelation” from Clinton's emails. From the July 2 edition of The O'Reilly Factor:  

O'REILLY: Hillary Clinton and the press. That's the subject of this evening's talking points memo. Recently released email shows Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her crew tried to manipulate the American media. Is anyone surprised? Every politician tries to do that and many succeed. I call them soft venues, placeswhere powerful people go to be interviewed, knowing they will be treated kindly. Larry King, famous for that. The most embarrassing revelation in the Clinton email dump was that CNN commentator Paul Begala used his own network to secretly disseminate Secretary Clinton's talking points on a variety of issues. Begala actually asked the Clinton people to send him stuff so he could throw it out to CNN's audience under the guise of commentary. That's bad. [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor7/2/15]