Pro-Trump pundit Steve Cortes says he went “to CNN partly at the suggestion of the White House itself and the president himself"

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

CNN political commentator Steve Cortes, who regularly appears on the network to praise President Donald Trump, recently said that he “went over to CNN partly at the suggestion of the White House itself and the president himself.”

CNN hired Cortes in January as one of its pro-Trump political commentators. He previously did stints at Fox News and CNBC and worked as a surrogate for Trump’s 2016 campaign. Fox News reported in March that Cortes interviewed for the still-vacant White House communications director position “but is considered a dark horse.”

Cortes joined CNN despite previously criticizing the network as “fake news” and attacking both on- and off-air CNN employees for alleged bias against Trump. His commentary for CNN is unsurprisingly a parade of misinformation and over-the-top support for Trump.

Cortes explained his reasons for working at CNN during a May 17 appearance on the New Orleans-based WGSO-AM radio program Ringside Politics. The Republican commentator said that he “went over to CNN partly at the suggestion of the White House” and Trump. From the program:

JEFF CROUERE (HOST): Steve, my condolences for having to work at CNN and my real, just -- my heart goes out to you and I just want to know how in the world, Steve, can you do that?

STEVE CORTES: Right. Well, it’s a very different job. 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 counter voice. I want to be an alternative voice on CNN and I hope a voice of reason. So I hope that I am over there, to put it in sort of religious terms, I hope I am winning over some pagans. And some of the unchurch folks.

While Cortes said that “CNN has been great to me,” he agreed with host Jeff Crouere’s criticism that CNN’s guest lineup is unfair to Trump.

STEVE CORTES: And honestly, I will say this. Look, CNN has been great to me, has certainly given me a platform. I like a lot of the people there even though I clearly don’t agree with what they say on air. But, for instance, today I’m going to be on three times and, believe me, I’m going to be advocating strenuously for the president’s position and for the renewal of this country, which I think is already happening and is going to accelerate going forward.

JEFF CROUERE: Well, let me congratulate you on working in that environment and being able to put up with all of that. Whenever I see a CNN panel it’s like one token conservative surrounded by four or five liberals.

CORTES: Right.

CROUERE: Or they’ll have some Never Trump Republicans on there who hate the president even more than the Democrats do.

CORTES: Right. And that often happens. Right.

CROUERE: And it just seems like it’s totally skewed and unbalanced.

CORTES: If it’s a four-person panel they’ll say it’s two Republicans and two Democrats but the problem is at least one of the Republicans despises President Trump.

Cortes’ path to a CNN job has some similarities to that of former commentator Jeffrey Lord, who, as CNN reporter Brian Stelter noted, was “the first explicitly pro-Donald Trump commentator to join the network, back in August 2015.”

The New York Times Magazine's Jonathan Mahler reported last year that after Trump appeared on Anderson Cooper 360 in 2015, the Republican “complained to CNN that his interviews on the network were always followed by conversations among panelists who all seemed to hate him. The network asked Trump to suggest the names of some people who would defend him. One of those whom he mentioned was Jeffrey Lord. … Lord made his CNN debut in July 2015. Two weeks later, CNN offered him a job as the network’s first pro-Trump contributor. (CNN said it was already considering Lord and that Trump’s suggestion had no effect on their decision to hire him.)” CNN fired Lord in August 2017 after he tweeted a Nazi salute at Media Matters President Angelo Carusone.

Numerous observers have criticized CNN for hiring pro-Trump commentators. Carlos Maza, a former Media Matters staffer who now produces Vox’s Strikethrough video series, wrote in April 2017: “CNN’s Trump supporters derail segments critical of the president, misrepresent Trump’s positions to avoid tough questions, and peddle false and misleading information on national TV while being paid by the network. In many cases, CNN’s Trump supporters repeat the same lies and talking points that CNN’s serious journalists spend all day trying to debunk. That might explain why Trump has quietly pushed his surrogates to appear on CNN, even while publicly feuding with the network.”

As Maza noted, BuzzFeed reported in March 2017 that “Trump has harsh words for CNN publicly, but he also is telling key surrogates to get airtime on the network.” According to the article, “Trump had advice for [one] surrogate, who now works at a rival network. ‘Looking to 2018 it would be better for us if you dive back into that fire at CNN,’ the source recalled the president saying. Trump offered to help get the surrogate on CNN.”

Media Matters asked CNN for comment on Cortes’ remarks about his hiring but did not receive a reply.