NBC News Veterans And Media Ethicists: CNBC Should "Not Allow" Larry Kudlow To "Misuse" Its Network To Campaign

"It Is A Straight-Up Conflict Of Interest"

Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

Veteran journalism experts and two former NBC News presidents are urging CNBC to remove senior contributor Larry Kudlow from the channel as he lays the groundwork for a potential campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Kudlow has said he is "moving toward" a Senate run in Connecticut with no apparent action from the network.

Among Kudlow's steps are interviewing potential campaign staff, creating strategy, and promoting "a test-the-water committee, which would become the campaign." At the same time, CNBC has allowed Kudlow to use its platform to attack potential Democratic opponent Sen. Richard Blumenthal. 

In 2010, when Kudlow was also rumored to be weighing a run for office, CNBC said it would "change" Kudlow's status with the network if he started "seriously considering" running. 

Asked about Kudlow's latest apparent political aspirations, a CNBC spokesperson told Media Matters on Monday, "Larry Kudlow is not a CNBC employee and no longer anchors a show and hasn't since March 28, 2014. He is now a senior contributor."

CNBC offered the same response to the Washington Examiner when the paper asked about Kudlow in September. The Examiner noted at the time, "Kudlow is, however, under contract with CNBC. The spokesperson would not comment on the terms of that arrangement, Kudlow's compensation, or when exactly CNBC would make a decision on its relationship with him as he considers a run for public office."

In a press release announcing its October 2015 Republican debate coverage, CNBC called Kudlow one of its "top" contributors and touted his involvement in the network's "special programming" surrounding the debate. He has recently been covering the Republican primary for the network from Iowa and New Hampshire

In comments to Media Matters, news veterans criticized Kudlow and the network. 

"If I were still there I would not allow it," said William Small, who served as NBC News president from 1979-1982. "It's a misuse of a news division, a news division is not supposed to take sides. There are a lot of people, especially at Fox, who do, but it never happened on my shift. That's a conflict of interest. I'm surprised that CNBC would allow that."

Richard Wald, a former NBC News president from 1972-1977, said CNBC should make Kudlow clarify what he is doing and act accordingly by taking him off the air if he is running.

"The first step is for the management of the network to sit down with Mr. Kudlow and find out his intentions and his timing. They should not skirt the ethical positions by deliberately not knowing," Wald said via email. "He can't use the network for political advantage if he is going into electoral politics. If the network finds that he is about to join the contest, or will do so on a date certain, then they should be prepared -- as you say they have stated before -- to take him off the air until the election is over." 

Several former network news reporters agreed.

"Anchors/reporters/'contributors' should not -- and should not be allowed -- to use a network to advance their political ambitions," Marvin Kalb, a 30-year Washington reporter and former host of Meet the Press, said via email. "This is done regularly on Fox, and it should not now spread to CNBC. If anyone, Kudlow included, wants to prepare a campaign for political office, it should not be from his or her perch atop a network."

Frank Sesno, former CNN Washington correspondent and current director of the School of Media & Public Affairs at George Washington University, said Kudlow's actions are a "very bright red flag" for CNBC management.  

"The network cannot, should not, doesn't want to be used as a crass launching pad for someone's political future," Sesno said. "If he hasn't had meetings with network executives, if he hasn't he's overdue. If he hasn't crossed the line, he's very, very close to it. This is not hard, if you are the head of the network you call the guy in and ask if he is running, if he says 'yes,' he is off the air. If he says 'no,' he goes back to work."

Kelly McBride, ethics instructor the Poynter Institute, echoed that view.

"CNBC should step in here and tell Larry he can't use his on-air platform as an exploratory committee because that's not in the best interests of the network and its audience," she said. "They should force him to make his decision and get on with it, now that he's already mentioned it. At the very least, he shouldn't talk about it on air again."

Edward Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, said CNBC's problem is that anything Kudlow says, especially related to financial interests that might be funding his campaign down the road, is tainted.

"It is a straight-up conflict of interest," Wasserman said. "The reality is that he cannot help but filter and decide what he is going to put on the air in light of how it's going to serve that ambition. And once he's done that, he is a classic conflict of interest, his judgment is impaired by a classic outside entanglement." 

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