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.
From the July 26 edition of CNN's State of the Union:
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Advancing a false Republican accusation, CNN contributor Alex Castellanos falsely claimed that Democrats "gave" AIG executives bonuses. In fact, the economic recovery bill did not create the right for AIG -- or any company -- to pay bonuses. Rather, AIG reportedly disclosed that it had entered into agreements to pay these bonuses more than a year ago, and the special inspector for the TARP program has testified that the Bush administration Treasury Department knew about the AIG bonus contracts and did not insist on their abrogation as a condition of AIG's receiving bailout money.
On CNN, Alex Castellanos falsely claimed that Sen. Barack Obama has never held a job for four years. In fact, Obama taught at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992-2004, served in the Illinois senate from 1997-2004, and held positions as associate and of counsel at the law firm of Miner, Barnhill & Galland from 1993-2002.
CNN announced in a press release: "Brody, Castellanos, Milbank, Rosen, Wall Span Spectrum of U.S. Politics for CNN Analysis, Commentary ... CNN has added five more top political reporters and commentators to its deep bench of political contributors and analysts." CNN's new "top political reporters and commentators" that "[s]pan" the "[s]pectrum" include reported McCain adviser Alex Castellanos, former RNC official Tara Walls, Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody -- who once described a male blogger as Fred Thompson's "angry girlfriend" -- and Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank.
On The Situation Room, Wolf Blitzer aired portions of an advertisement by Sen. John McCain's campaign without noting key facts undermining several of the ad's attacks on Sen. Barack Obama. Blitzer also solicited analysis of the ad from CNN political contributor Alex Castellanos without disclosing that Castellanos reportedly advises McCain on his campaign ads.
Discussing Sen. Hillary Clinton's comments regarding sexism in the media's coverage of her presidential campaign, CNN's Jeffrey Toobin referred to a New York Times column that "talked about some of the humor in the campaign, and the punch line was a line that was -- that Hillary Clinton was a 'white bitch.' " CNN political contributor Alex Castellanos asserted, "And some women, by the way, are named that and it's accurate."
A week after echoing the myth invoked by the Bush administration that there was a link between the September 11 attacks and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Republican media consultant and CNN political contributor Alex Castellanos stated that if Sen. Hillary Clinton were Sen. Barack Obama's vice president, "I think Barack Obama would have to hire a food tester."
CNN hosted Republican advertising consultant Alex Castellanos -- creator of racially charged advertisements for former Sen. Jesse Helms -- who echoed the myth invoked by the Bush administration that there was a link between the September 11 attacks, perpetrated by Al Qaeda, and Saddam Hussein's Iraq. In fact, the 9-11 Commission report stated: "We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States."