CNN pro-Trump pundit Steve Cortes says his tenure with the network is “almost done,” attacks media as “enemy of the people”


Citation Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Update (1/21/20): Cortes has officially left CNN. He said on the January 20 edition of his radio program that his stint at the network “just ended.” He later that day appeared on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, where he said that CNN benched him “directly because of” his PragerU Charlottesville video. Cortes also joined the pro-Trump group America First Action PAC as a senior adviser and spokesman. 

CNN political commentator Steve Cortes said on a radio program yesterday that his “tenure with CNN is almost done.” As he heads toward the exits, Cortes has been taking shots at CNN and the media in general, including stating that he believes the media is “very much the enemy of the people.”

CNN employment of pro-Trump commentators has been a disaster for the network and its viewers. It’s formerly employed Trump supporters like Corey Lewandowski, Jeffrey Lord, Ed Martin, Kayleigh McEnany, Stephen Moore, and Ken Cuccinelli. Former pro-Trump CNN commentators have gone on to trash the network for alleged bias against the president. 

Despite those repeated failures, the network doesn’t appear to have learned its lesson: CNN recently hired pro-Trump former congressman Sean Duffy, who went on to promptly misinform the network’s viewers and later also joined a leading lobbying firm as senior counsel. It also employs Trump adviser David Urban, whose on-air conflicts of interest have repeatedly drawn scrutiny

In 2018, the network hired Cortes, who also serves as a Trump campaign adviser, despite his anti-CNN history. As Media Matters documented in May 2018, Cortes had previously called the network “fake news” and suggested he was “very happy” to work at Fox News -- where he was a contributor at the time -- instead of CNN. He had also tweeted that CNN Chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta “sadly … has stopped even pretending to be a journalist. He's an anti-Trump activist masquerading as a reporter.” 

Cortes has indicated that he started working for CNN at Trump’s suggestion, stating: “I used to be at Fox News, which was a whole different world. I went over to CNN partly at the suggestion of the White House itself and the president himself because -- and I wanted to do it also because I saw a narrative there that I thought was unfair to the president, and I want to try to be a countervoice.” 

In August, Cortes starred in a video for the right-wing outlet PragerU which attempted to rewrite Trump’s “very fine people” remarks after the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. In recent months, he has been benched from appearing on the network, with one former CNN contributor telling The Hollywood Reporter’s Jeremy Barr: “They just won't book him. They'll just pay him. They won't fire him, because that's just blatant. But they won't book him, and they'll tell all the producers not to book him.” Cortes has not appeared on CNN since September 17, according to a search of transcripts in the Nexis database.  

Cortes has recently started hosting The Steve Cortes Show on Chicago’s WIND. On that show, which frequently features discussion of the media, Cortes said that while he previously thought Trump “was too harsh” when he called the media the “enemy of the people,” he now thinks that “the fake news media” is “very much the enemy of the people” and pointed to the media’s coverage of the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani (he specifically singled out a New York Times article).

Cortes also appeared on the January 15 edition of Salem Radio Networks' The Dan Proft Show and said, “My tenure with CNN is almost done. I do give them credit for putting a voice like mine on. And I don’t see that, for example, on MSNBC.” He later took a shot at CNN and the media, saying: 

STEVE CORTES: In general, CNN, MSNBC, anywhere, print media, it’s unfortunate, I believe, that there’s a real crisis of journalism in this country. Far too many people who are activists and advocates are trying to masquerade as journalists. And that lack of transparency and that hypocrisy, really, has destroyed a lot of trust from the public, rightfully so, in media. And that void of real journalism, I think, is really problematic for our republic. So I’ve always been incredibly transparent. I am an activist, I’m an advocate. I’m trying to persuade people of the American nationalist agenda. A lot of my colleagues in corporate media are similarly activists, and yet they pretend to be reporters and anchors. And I think, you know, therein lies the sort of systemic problem that unfortunately plagues a lot of so-called journalism today.