CNN commentator lobbied for Norfolk Southern; the network didn’t tell its audience during East Palestine discussion
Why does CNN continue to employ ethically challenged lobbyist David Urban?
CNN’s State of the Union and host Dana Bash held a Sunday roundtable discussion about the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment featuring CNN political commentator David Urban, who said that “there's plenty of blame to go around on this” and pivoted to criticizing the Biden administration. CNN never disclosed or asked Urban about his work for Norfolk Southern, which paid him and his then-lobbying firm over a million dollars.
Urban was until 2020 the president of the lobbying firm American Continental Group, where he lobbied for Norfolk Southern on “transportation issues related to railways” starting in 2009, according to federal disclosure forms. He and his firm collected at least $1,140,000, according to a calculation of federal data by ProPublica.
The Republican commentator is now the managing director for BGR Group, a leading lobbying firm that presents countless conflicts of interest for his on-air work. In its most recent lobbying quarter, BGR has continued to lobby on transportation issues. Its website also states: “Our clients in the aviation, automotive, rail, shipping and mass transit industries rely on BGR to educate political leaders about how vital these industries are to domestic and international commerce.”
Urban also played a key role in the election of former President Donald Trump, who weakened safety regulations in the rail industry.
He appeared on the February 26 edition of CNN’s State of the Union, where he participated in a panel discussion about East Palestine. CNN identified him on screen as a CNN political commentator and former Trump campaign adviser.
During the segment, Bash said that the Trump administration rolled back regulations, to which Urban replied: “There's plenty of blame to go around on this, on these kind -- when these kinds of things happen. But what's important is what we do moving forward, right, to take care of the people in these towns and communities.” He then went on to criticize the Biden administration for allegedly “sloughing off” the crisis.
CNN and Bash didn’t disclose Urban’s work for Norfolk Southern and BGR’s connections to the railroad industry. And Bash didn’t challenge him on whether any of the “blame” should go to Norfolk Southern or about his own work for the company. Norfolk Southern, specifically, lobbied against safety regulations.
CNN has continued to employ Urban despite a dizzying array of ethical problems. For example:
- Urban urged a military strike against Iran without any disclosure that he worked for defense contractors.
- Urban praised then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper without the network disclosing that he personally lobbied the Defense Department on behalf of defense contractors.
- Urban repeatedly attacked environmental protections without disclosing he lobbied for fossil fuel-related clients including Norfolk Southern, which transports coal.
- Urban repeatedly pushed for the passage of a trade agreement on-air after he was hired to lobby for it. The network didn’t disclose the conflict of interest.
- Urban touted a lobbying client’s opposition to a tax bill without any disclosure that they paid him.