CBS News is cravenly hoping to get “access” to Republican sources and audiences, as exemplified by the network’s recent decision to hire former Trump administration official Mick Mulvaney as a contributor. This is not mere speculation — the network has admitted as much during internal discussions.
The Washington Post obtained a recording of a staff meeting earlier this month, in which CBS News’ co-president Neeraj Khemlani acknowledged that the network has been hiring more Republicans in order to “make sure that we are getting access to both sides of the aisle.” Khemlani also explicitly stated his expectation that Republicans will win control of Congress in the midterm elections, declaring that “A lot of the people that we’re bringing in are helping us in terms of access to that side of the equation.”
According to the Post’s reporting, the reactions inside CBS News to Mulvaney’s hiring were “as chilly as the reaction on social media, where many journalists and political commentators suggested that the network was jeopardizing its long history of journalistic excellence.” The Post also reported that a “senior CBS News producer” addressed the controversy over Mulvaney’s hiring by pointing out that 74.2 million Americans had voted for Trump in 2020. (Of course, nearly 81.3 million Americans voted for President Joe Biden.)
The problem with that rationale, however, is that it seems to imply that the network thinks it has to sacrifice a fidelity to truth in order to reach conservative audiences. Interestingly, the Post also deleted a juicy detail from the original version of its article, in which an anonymous CBS employee complained about the network’s hiring of Mulvaney — former President Donald Trump’s director of the Office of Management and former acting White House chief of staff. In the stricken quote, the employee explained: “It makes no sense to hire a guy whose entire job was to lie to us on behalf of Trump.”
In short, mainstream media outlets like CBS News are fully aware that Republican officials, particularly those affiliated with Trump, are habitual liars. But they feel a need to hire these people, so their outlets can have things to write about from Republican sources — instead of writing about how they are habitual liars.
Media Matters pointed out Tuesday that Mulvaney’s hiring is an embarrassment, given that his public pronouncements have been a mixture of outright lies, false predictions, and immoral statements. Mulvaney absurdly predicted that Trump would “concede gracefully” and “participate in a peaceful transition of power” after the 2020 election, he publicly admitted that Trump had held back military aid from Ukraine in exchange for a political quid pro quo, and he claimed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that the Trump administration “[knew] how to handle this.”
Even on the subject matter for which CBS hired Mulvaney — tax and budgetary matters — he has no moral or intellectual authority. The media described him as an “anti-deficit crusader” ahead of Trump’s inauguration, based on his public profile during the Obama years, only for him to proclaim during his first year in the Trump administration that “we need to have new deficits” in order to push more tax cuts. By 2019, he declared that “nobody cares” about deficits, and he admitted in 2020 that Republicans are hypocrites on the subject. (Media outlets are continually fooled by conservative deficit scolds, who emerge whenever a Democratic administration is in power.)
On the Post's audio recording, CBS Mornings host Gayle King was heard remarking that she had just hosted the Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD) that morning. “I told Senator Thune: ‘We like Republicans. We like rational Republicans here, Senator Thune,’” King said. Such a remark shows how low the bar is set to qualify as a “rational Republican.” (Thune has openly admitted that he and other Republicans opposed investigating the January 6 insurrection because it might hurt the party’s chances going into the midterms.)
King also aligned with Khemlani’s desire to line up House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as a guest. McCarthy has publicly defended the most hateful, far-right members of his caucus, joined the insurrectionists on January 6, 2021 when he voted to overturn the presidential election results, and met for a photo opportunity with Trump three weeks later at Mar-a-Lago. This leaves some open questions as to who a “rational” Republican guest would be in CBS News’ eyes, and it highlights the extent to which public depravity can escape accountability in the name of “access.”
It would at least be worth something for the networks to host interviews with these Republicans, if they were to then hold them accountable for the lies and public misbehavior that the networks are fully aware is going on. But instead, mainstream media’s actual track record of softball interviews with Trump and his aides from 2017 through 2020 gives a hint as to what we might expect if CBS News ever were to land a coveted interview with McCarthy.
Mainstream media courting Republican hacks in order to gain access simply never ends well. Back in 2017, MSNBC gave a show to right-wing pundit Hugh Hewitt — a man who was not just a Trump apologist, but had literally apologized to Trump for asking a difficult question. The show was canceled a year later, but Hewitt remained on the payroll as an NBC News contributor. In his presence, NBC viewers were treated to fever-swamp conspiracy theories, brazen ethical conflicts, and blatant partisan hypocrisy.
Then again, the Post itself is also guilty of catering to partisan Republican contributors who have nothing of value to offer. The paper’s opinion page is host to columns from not only Hewitt, but also to former George W. Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen. Between the two of them, a Post reader could learn from Hewitt about the supposed greatness of the “People’s Convoy” of truckers that was approaching the greater D.C. area — it in fact became a total bust — or instead read Thiessen’s delivery of identical talking points from Fox News, where he is also a contributor, blaming Biden’s action on climate change for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.