Veteran journalists and media ethicists are slamming CNN for hiring former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as a paid contributor, saying his hostile treatment of the press and the lack of clarity over whether he signed a non-disparagement agreement with the campaign make his hiring a “new high of immorality.”
Lewandowksi, who was fired by Trump on June 20, has long had a troubling relationship with reporters, including being investigated by police in March after grabbing the arm of reporter Michelle Fields, threatening to pull credentials of CNN’s own Noah Gray, and being accused of making “unwanted romantic advances” and “sexually suggestive and at times vulgar comments to -- and about -- female journalists.”
CNN has already been widely criticized for hiring Lewandowski. In interviews with Media Matters, several media observers and veteran journalists added their voices to the chorus, saying the move raises ethical issues and harms CNN’s credibility.
“CNN’s decision to hire Lewandowski is problematic in a number of ways,” said Tom Fiedler, dean of the College of Communication at Boston University and former editor of The Miami Herald. “First, and perhaps most important, is his failure to respond to the question about signing a non-disparagement agreement, which can only be interpreted as meaning that he did sign one.”
Lewandowski was asked in his first interview as an official CNN contributor whether he signed such an agreement, and he dodged the question.
“Unless and until he can counter that interpretation, he must be perceived as being totally compromised in his commentary -- put bluntly, a Trump shill,” Fiedler added. “But even putting that issue aside, the fact that CNN would give a prominent platform (not to mention a paycheck) to an individual whose personal and professional behavior includes bullying and misogyny at best and assault at worst, baffles me. Can his insights into the presidential campaign and into the candidates be so valuable as to enable CNN to overlook this well-documented record?”
Former CNN White House correspondent Frank Sesno, who is currently director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, said hiring Lewandowski is different from other former political operatives joining a network.
“In this case, CNN has hired an outspoken adversary of journalism,” Sesno said. “Someone who has challenged its role, attacked reporters and represented a candidate who was openly hostile to journalism and the First Amendment itself.”
Paul Levinson, a professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University and author of the book New New Media, said hiring Lewandowski “is a new high of immorality in the relationship between our media and our political system.”
He later added, “It would be one thing if he had just been fired for whatever reason, things happen. As we know, and CNN covering all of the details, Corey Lewandowski was investigated" for the incident with Fields. "The police got into it, it was a serious issue and that combined with the fact that Lewandowski’s relationship with the Trump campaign even now isn’t clear.”
For Tim McGuire, former Arizona State University media professor and past president of American Society of News Editors, CNN’s hiring of Lewandowski is “profoundly disturbing. The terms of that agreement are crucial. If it truly is a non-disparagement agreement this hire is totally wrong.”
Clark Hoyt, former New York Times public editor and one-time Washington Bureau chief for Knight Ridder, said he was “surprised that any news organization with aspirations to credibility would hire Cory Lewandowski in any capacity.”
Hoyt also said, “His well-documented hostility to journalists and the role of a free press aside, he comes to his new role as a paid political commentator bound by some kind of contract with Donald Trump. Whether it contains a non-disparagement clause or not, it bars Lewandowski from disclosing exactly the kind of information that a news network should be trying to get to help inform voters. CNN ought to put up a disclaimer every time he appears on camera.”