The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple called out CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker for skirting the issue of hiring former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski by offering a dishonest defense of the decision.
CNN hired the Republican presidential nominee’s former campaign manager in June, a week after he was fired from the campaign for allegedly manhandling a reporter. Since joining the news organization, Lewandowski has echoed and defended Trump’s most questionable statements, including reviving Trump’s birther claims against President Obama and recommending that the Republican nominee sue The New York Times “into oblivion.”
Jeff Zucker’s decision to hire Lewandowski came under fire after it was discovered that he was still being paid by the Trump campaign, which CNN said was severance pay. In August, Lewandowski announced on Twitter he was joining Donald Trump and his campaign in New Hampshire. In September, The Washington Post discovered Lewandowski was doing “consulting work” for Trump, and he recently joined the campaign for more events in Maine and New Jersey.
Zucker defended hiring Corey Lewandowski during an October 14 interview at the Harvard Institute of Politics, claiming it is necessary to have someone who represents the “14 million people who voted for” Donald Trump, and that opposition to Lewandowski’s presence at CNN is “because they don’t like the idea of the Trump candidacy.” Wemple discounted Zucker’s defense, explaining that “the critical case against” employing Lewandowski “rests on ethical considerations.” From Wemple’s October 17 Washington Post blog post:
In an extensive interview on Friday at the Harvard Institute of Politics, CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker faced a question about the No. 1 ethical issue facing the 24/7 cable network over the course of campaign 2016. “What was your thought process in hiring [Donald] Trump’s former campaign manager and surrogates in general and where do you draw the line for CNN between reporting on the campaign and becoming a mouthpiece for the campaigns?” asked a member of the audience.
No stranger to tough questions about CNN’s moves, Zucker, a Harvard graduate, took this one in stride. For months, critics of the channel have ripped the June decision to hire Corey Lewandowski just after he’d been fired from his job as Donald Trump’s campaign manager. As he broke into the CNN commentating lineup, he was asked about any nondisclosure and non disparagement clauses that might swamp his candor. His responses were unconvincing. Then CNN revealed that he was still receiving severance from the Trump campaign — payments that continued in July and August; a final pay-out occurred last month.
Speaking specifically to the Lewandowski situation, Zucker said this: “So, look, you know — the Trump surrogate voices, including Corey Lewandowski … are there to represent those 13-14 million voters who have voted for him. Now, I know that there’s are a lot of people who don’t like Corey Lewandowski or the other Trump surrogates that we have on staff,” he said. “I think a lot of that is because they don’t like the idea of the Trump candidacy and that’s just a projection of ‘How could you have those people on the set?’ Well, we have them on the set because somebody’s got to represent 14 million people who voted for the guy. I understand that there are people who might not like that, who might not like those people who are supporting him, but that’s what happened.”
CNN is entitled to rejigger its lineup of commentators in reaction to political events. Such is its prerogative. What it may not do, however, is recast the controversy over Lewandowski’s employment as a matter of taste. Though some folks surely object to Lewandowski because they simply do not like him, the critical case against the move rests on ethical considerations. Lewandowski was hired fresh off the Trump campaign, and evidence is strong that he remains part of its inner circle, as both Politico and the New York Times reported last month.
Though many commentators have certain loyalties and affections, Lewandowski is all but prohibited from indulging in Trump-oriented skepticism while on CNN airwaves. That is the problem with Lewandowski. Not that certain people don’t like him.