Last month, CNN announced the hiring of former Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Isgur as a political editor. According to a February 19 report from Politico, Isgur was brought on to “coordinate political coverage for the 2020 campaign.” The Daily Beast corroborated that reporting, quoting a CNN spokesperson saying that Isgur would be “the politics editor helming CNN’s 2020 coverage.”
On Friday, Isgur posted a tweet explaining that her role had changed. CNN’s Oliver Darcy quoted a network spokesperson as saying, “We can confirm that when Sarah came to us and proposed her role be adjusted to a political analyst instead, we agreed and we look forward to her starting in that role."
Isgur’s hire was controversial for a number of reasons, among them her lack of journalism experience; reports that she pledged loyalty to President Donald Trump; questions about whether she was involved in Fox News’ spread of a conspiracy theory about a murdered Democratic National Committee staffer; and the complete and total lack of transparency surrounding the hiring process.
The rollout was an absolute mess, with CNN staffers left in the dark about what her exact responsibilities would be amid conflicting reports. Vox published a statement from CNN that Isgur would not be “leading, overseeing, or running political coverage.” On February 26, The Daily Beast reported that the DNC was told Isgur “will have no editorial decision-making control over the network’s coverage of the 2020 elections.” CNN’s own reporting on the hire was lacking, leaving scoops to other news organizations as the network’s story kept shifting.
While the value of adding another pro-Trump voice to CNN's stable of analysts -- especially one who may have signed a nondisparagement agreement -- is debatable, it’s also concerning that CNN doesn’t seem to have learned anything from this debacle. Presumably, if Isgur had not asked for the change in roles, she would have started at CNN as a political editor, something that was never fully explained.
Illustrating the utter lack of self-awareness within the network, CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter was quoted today saying, “We should, in newsrooms, be as transparent as the people we cover.” When it came to Isgur, CNN failed that simple mission.