Media Matters for America has obtained evidence that CNN contributor Alex Castellanos' political consulting firm, National Media, is the ad buyer for the insurance industry group America's Health Insurance Plan's (AHIP) new ad blitz attacking Democratic health reform plans. CNN has a responsibility to insure that Castellanos' obvious conflict of interest does not tarnish their future coverage of the health care debate.
According to the detailed ad buy information obtained by Media Matters, Castellanos is responsible for placing, beginning October 11, more than $1 million of AHIP advertising in five states. Castellanos last appeared on CNN September 30; during a debate with Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) on The Situation Room, Castellanos defended Republican health care proposals.
If Castellanos returns to CNN's airwaves to discuss health care, it shouldn't be as a Republican strategist and CNN contributor, but as what he is - an industry spokesman. He shouldn't be arguing against Democratic strategists like Donna Brazile or James Carville, he should be paired off with progressive health care reform advocates like the leaders of Health Care for America Now. And -- it should go without saying - he must be identified as someone who is taking money from the insurance industry.
Last August, we noted that Castellanos - best known as the creator of the racially charged "Hands" advertisement - was hired as a CNN contributor three days after the New York Times reported that he was part of John McCain's "panel of outside advertising consultants." CNN subsequently failed to disclose Castellanos' connection to the McCain campaign while he was, for instance, applauding the McCain campaign's ads. If they hope to live up to their "most trusted" brand, CNN must do a better job of handling Castellanos' new conflict of interest.
UPDATE: A quick look at National Media's client list indicates that his work for AHIP isn't Castellanos' only conflict with regard to health care reform. National Media has done work for the Federation of American Hospitals, the pharmaceutical industry group PhRMA, and the HCA Sunrise Hospital. That's three more reasons CNN should label Castellanos as an industry shill, not a political analyst.