CNN political commentator Steve Cortes this week attended a rally for President Donald Trump, who criticized CNN for its handling of Cortes and told him that he’ll “get a real job” soon. The rally is the latest episode in CNN’s embarrassing employment of Cortes, who appears headed for the exits at the network.
During the September 16 rally in New Mexico, Trump called Cortes a “great friend of mine, somebody that was on CNN and they didn’t like him because he was too positive on Trump, can you believe it? He happens to be Hispanic. … You were incredible on CNN and now you will get a real job, OK? Steve, that audience wasn’t big enough for you.”
He also launched into a bizarre monologue in which he said Cortes “looks more like a WASP than I do” and questioned, “Who do you like more, the country or the Hispanics? He says the country. I don’t know, I may have to go for the Hispanics, to be honest with you.”
In late January 2018, CNN announced that it had hired Cortes as a political commentator. CNN signed Cortes shortly after it let go of pro-Trump commentator Ed Martin, who said he was fired “for cause.”
CNN hired Cortes despite his anti-CNN history. As Media Matters documented in May 2018, Cortes 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 also tweeted of CNN Chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta: “Sadly, @Acosta has stopped even pretending to be a journalist. He's an anti-Trump activist masquerading as a reporter.”
Cortes himself indicated in May 2018 that he started working for CNN at the suggestion of Trump, who is obsessed with cable news. The commentator said on a radio show: “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.”
Being a “countervoice” on CNN means that Cortes has defended Trump’s suggestion that violence from his supporters might be justified; taken issue with the idea “that the president is a habitual liar”; claimed “there is zero evidence that” Trump “is a racist”; and falsely stated that “there is evidence of widespread voter fraud” and “illegals do vote, clearly.”
Cortes starred in an August 5 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. CNN reporter Oliver Darcy responded to the video by tweeting: “Calling this a ‘malicious lie’ (which it's not) and ‘journalistic malfeasance’ (which it's also not) is a weird thing for someone who is a paid CNN commentator to say, given the network's accurate reporting on the matter.” Trump replied to the video on Twitter: “Thank you Steve!”
Shortly afterward, The Hollywood Reporter’s Jeremy Barr wrote that Cortes appears to have been “benched” by the network, with one former CNN contributor stating of the network and Cortes: “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.” The Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng and Maxwell Tani subsequently reported that Trump “got on the phone with Cortes in the past month to ask him what was going on, and to complain about CNN’s ‘bias’ and how unfairly the cable news network has treated” Cortes, according to “two sources familiar with the call.”
On August 30, Cortes visited Trump at The White House to discuss his CNN employment, among other issues. Cortes said in a September 13 radio interview that he discussed his CNN employment situation “with the president personally. I went there two weeks ago and sat with him in the Oval Office and talked about a whole lot of issues, most of them related to media, and most of them related to the 2020 campaign, you know, and including my situation there.” He added: “I’ll probably have more to say at some point but not present.”
When Cortes’ CNN contract does run out, it’s certainly likely he’ll follow the same path as other former pro-Trump CNN commentators and trash the network for purportedly being insufficiently deferential to Trump.
Even without Cortes, CNN has another problem in political commentator David Urban. Urban advises the Trump campaign and, like Cortes, received a Trump shoutout at a recent rally. But unlike Cortes, Urban is the president of a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm that collects millions in lobbying income per year. And Urban regularly uses his CNN position to promote his lobbying clients’ issues without disclosures about his conflicts of interest.