How cable news should cover Trump's latest effort to screw you over while helping big banks

White House appointment to CFPB could doom successful watchdog agency

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

CNN’s morning news program New Day set a standard for covering the dispute between the White House and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) over who should lead the agency after the departure of its long-time director, Richard Cordray. Meanwhile, Fox News largely carried water for the administration, framing the dispute in its morning show Fox & Friends as a fight between President Donald Trump and the so-called “swamp,” while MSNBC’s flagship morning program Morning Joe neglected the legal brinkmanship entirely.

On Friday, November 24, Cordray announced his resignation from the nation’s premier consumer financial watchdog agency and elevated his chief of staff, Leandra English, to the position of deputy director. According to The Washington Post, Cordray argued in his resignation letter that designating English as the agency’s new deputy, and thus as its acting director in his absence, “would minimize operational disruption and provide for a smooth transition” until the Senate confirmed a permanent replacement. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) shared Cordray’s sentiment, pointing out on Twitter that the Dodd-Frank Act, which created the CFPB, was very clear about the proper process for succession at the regulatory agency: The deputy director “shall be appointed by the Director” and serve as acting director in that person’s absence.

Despite the clear letter of the law, the Trump administration nominated its own acting director: the head of Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Mick Mulvaney, a former Republican congressman and outspoken opponent of the CFPB with close ties to a lobbyist who currently represents a bank “facing the prospect of major CFPB sanctions.” Acting Director English summarily filed suit against the White House in federal court for “Disregarding ... statutory language” on the proper process of naming a new director and for attempting to implant Mulvaney to serve “indefinitely as the interim head of a statutorily ‘independent’ agency” despite his current role as White House budget director.

The succession crisis at CFPB, and the looming court battle over the president’s latest decision to circumvent legislative statutes in pursuit of his own agenda, should have provided ample material for reporters and analysts at each of the largest cable news outlets. Unfortunately, only CNN’s New Day seemed up to the task the day after the lawsuit was filed.

CNN reporters led with the CFPB story throughout the morning of November 27, outlining the legal basis for the administration’s case as well as the case made by Acting Director English. The network’s legal and political analysts also dissected how the dispute over CFPB’s leadership is part of the Trump administration’s broader plan to dismantle regulatory and oversight mechanisms throughout the federal government. New Day even featured a lengthy interview with former Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), who co-authored Dodd-Frank, where he highlighted the importance of maintaining an independent financial watchdog to implement consumer protections that would prevent returning to the catastrophic circumstances of the 2008 financial collapse.

Compared to extensive coverage from CNN, MSNBC’s Morning Joe had nothing to say about the issue. Meanwhile, the Trump sycophants at Fox & Friends briefly addressed the dispute twice, characterizing it as a fight between Trump and the so-called “swamp” and wondering why the president ought not have unilateral authority to usurp the independence of agencies like the CFPB.

The Trump administration’s current assault on the CFPB is only the latest in a series of Republican attempts to take down the agency. Right-wing media outlets, such as The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, have vilified the CFPB for years, but their calls to destroy the independent financial regulatory process have been supercharged by the rise of Trump and his GOP enablers.


Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of “CFPB,” “Mick Mulvaney,” and “Leandra English” on the November 27 editions of CNN’s New Day, Fox News’ Fox & Friends, and MSNBC’s Morning Joe.