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  • Media Experts Rip CNN For “Profoundly Disturbing” Lewandowski Hiring

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Veteran journalists and media ethicists are slamming CNN for hiring former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as a paid contributor, saying his hostile treatment of the press and the lack of clarity over whether he signed a nondisparagement agreement with the campaign make his hiring a “new high of immorality.”

    Lewandowksi, who was fired by Trump on June 20, has long had a troubling relationship with reporters, including being investigated by police in March after grabbing the arm of reporter Michelle Fields, threatening to pull credentials of CNN’s own Noah Gray, and being accused of making “unwanted romantic advances” and “sexually suggestive and at times vulgar comments to -- and about -- female journalists.”

    CNN has already been widely criticized for hiring Lewandowski. In interviews with Media Matters, several media observers and veteran journalists added their voices to the chorussaying the move raises ethical issues and harms CNN’s credibility.

    “CNN’s decision to hire Lewandowski is problematic in a number of ways,” said Tom Fiedler, dean of the College of Communication at Boston University and former editor of The Miami Herald. “First, and perhaps most important, is his failure to respond to the question about signing a nondisparagement agreement, which can only be interpreted as meaning that he did sign one.”

    Lewandowski was asked in his first interview as an official CNN contributor whether he signed such an agreement, and he dodged the question.

    “Unless and until he can counter that interpretation, he must be perceived as being totally compromised in his commentary -- put bluntly, a Trump shill,” Fiedler added. “But even putting that issue aside, the fact that CNN would give a prominent platform (not to mention a paycheck) to an individual whose personal and professional behavior includes bullying and misogyny at best and assault at worst, baffles me. Can his insights into the presidential campaign and into the candidates be so valuable as to enable CNN to overlook this well-documented record?” 

    Former CNN White House correspondent Frank Sesno, who is currently director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, said hiring Lewandowski is different from other former political operatives joining a network.

    “In this case, CNN has hired an outspoken adversary of journalism,” Sesno said. “Someone who has challenged its role, attacked reporters and represented a candidate who was openly hostile to journalism and the First Amendment itself.”

    Paul Levinson, a professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University and author of the book New New Mediasaid hiring Lewandowski “is a new high of immorality in the relationship between our media and our political system.”

    He later added, “It would be one thing if he had just been fired for whatever reason, things happen. As we know, and CNN covering all of the details, Corey Lewandowski was investigated" for the incident with Fields. "The police got into it, it was a serious issue and that combined with the fact that Lewandowski’s relationship with the Trump campaign even now isn’t clear.”

    For Tim McGuire, former Arizona State University media professor and past president of American Society of News Editors, CNN’s hiring of Lewandowski is “profoundly disturbing. The terms of that agreement are crucial. If it truly is a nondisparagement agreement this hire is totally wrong.”

    Clark Hoyt, former New York Times public editor and one-time Washington Bureau chief for Knight Ridder, said he was “surprised that any news organization with aspirations to credibility would hire Cory Lewandowski in any capacity.”

    Hoyt also said, “His well-documented hostility to journalists and the role of a free press aside, he comes to his new role as a paid political commentator bound by some kind of contract with Donald Trump. Whether it contains a nondisparagement clause or not, it bars Lewandowski from disclosing exactly the kind of information that a news network should be trying to get to help inform voters. CNN ought to put up a disclaimer every time he appears on camera.”

  • CNN And Fox News’ Sunday Media Criticism Shows Note Ethical Issues With CNN’s Lewandowski Hire

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Media figures on CNN’s Reliable Sources and Fox News’ MediaBuzz criticized CNN’s decision to hire Corey Lewandowski, former campaign manager for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Hosts and guests on the two media criticism programs highlighted the various “ethical” and “controversial” issues surrounding Lewandowski’s hiring, including Lewandowski’s history of aggressively handling the press and the ambiguity surrounding his possible non-disparagement agreements with Trump.

    On June 23, CNN hired Lewandowski as a salaried political commentator days after he had been fired as Trump’s campaign manager. CNN employees and other reporters immediately raised concerns over the various potential ethical problems associated with Lewandowski’s hiring.

    There are still several unknowns about Lewandowski's new position: whether he signed a non-disparagement agreement with Trump, which would preclude Lewandowski from criticizing his former boss; whether Lewandowski’s history of aggressive behavior toward journalists was taken into account during the hiring process; and whether an ongoing defamation suit against Trump and Lewandowski is a conflict of interest for CNN.

    CNN’s Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s media criticism program Reliable Sources, said on June 26 that Lewandowski is “the most controversial addition to CNN in several years,” noting that his “hostile” behavior toward reporters and the uncertainty regarding any non-disparagement agreements raise “ethical questions.”

    Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik shamed CNN on Reliable Sources for hiring a “weasel to tell you about” “what’s going on inside the Trump campaign,” and told CNN to “give your money back.”

    Fox News’ media critic Howard Kurtz also slammed CNN on his program MediaBuzz, calling the decision a “sad move” that doesn’t help “CNN’s credibility in covering Donald Trump.” Kurtz specifically noted Lewandowski’s non-disclosure agreement and “rough relations with some reporters.”

    CNN’s own staff have heavily criticized Lewandowski for his “inexcusable” and “unprofessional” behavior. Media Matters has noted, though, that Lewandowski’s hire is at odds with how the network has responded to previous attacks on employees: in February, Trump ally Roger Stone was banned from the network after he wrote a series of offensive, incendiary tweets attacking CNN media figures.

  • The Problem With The Media’s ‘Trump Is Pivoting’ Narrative

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Media figures have repeatedly claimed that presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is “pivoting” to the general election every time he does something that they think makes him look or sound “presidential.” Media’s constant search for Trump’s “pivot” effectively whitewashes all of the racist, sexist, slanderous, and conspiratorial attacks Trump has doled out, and mainstreams the idea that Trump’s past diatribes can be forgiven so long as he assumes a veneer of conventional, tempered behavior.

    Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump and the media have engaged in a cycle wherein Trump launches offensive broadsides and character attacks; He gets bad press; Republican leaders clamor for Trump to tone down his rhetoric; Trump obliges, often using a teleprompter to restrain himself; Media figures claim Trump has “pivoted” and is “becoming more presidential”; and repeat.

    As MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace said, Trump constantly shatters the “pivot” narrative “by trotting out conspiracy theories” -- or, as others have noted, outrageous insults -- within hours of being lauded as “presidential.” 

    In following this pattern, the media are both applauding Trump for having simply mastered “campaign 101,” as CNN’s David Gregory noted, and excusing his past remarks as political maneuvering and electoral showmanship.

    In early June, after Trump launched a multiday racist crusade against Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over Trump University lawsuits, Republican leaders beseeched Trump to “get on message” and “quit attacking … various minority groups in the country.” That very night, Trump delivered a speech -- devoid of any attacks and with the aid of a teleprompter -- that “sought to calm fretful Republicans bolting from his side over his latest controversy,” CNN reported.

    Media figures immediately claimed that Trump’s restraint showed he was “pivoting.” NBC News reporter Ali Vitali wrote that Trump “acted presidential” in the speech, which “finalized his pivot to the general election.” CNN host Don Lemon said the “new, more presidential Donald Trump” is what “people in Washington wanted to see.” Unsurprisingly, Trump also received praise from right-wing media for sounding “more presidential than ever.”

    CNN political commentator Marc Lamont Hill explained the phenomenon:

    “It's kind of a good outcome for Trump, because we're not talking about a Mexican judge anymore. We're not talking about something controversial. We're talking about Trump changing the direction of his campaign. That can only be good news for him, based on what the last three weeks have been.”

    GOP leaders condemned Trump’s repeated “offensive” suggestions that President Obama had sympathies for terrorists, but changed their tune once Trump delivered his next teleprompter-guided speech following the mass shooting in Orlando, FL. Some media figures said Trump sounded “more presidential” and was “behaving like general election nominees behave,” and Trump’s slanderous accusations against the president quickly fell out of the news cycle.

    The “pivot” claim, which has repeatedly surfaced since at least February, has also helped wash away many of Trump’s past actions and comments: his doubling down on his proposed Muslim ban, his accusations that Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) father was involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination, and his questioning of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s faith.

    Some media figures have noted the journalistic malpractice associated with the constant fallback on the “pivot” narrative. New York Times Magazine correspondent Mark Leibovich, calling the narrative “absurd,” wrote:

    But really, how do you pivot away from saying that Mexicans are rapists? (Will he negotiate “great deals” with more moderate Mexican rapists?) If your campaign is a cult of personality, how can you modulate that personality and still have the cult? In Trump’s case, a “pivot” would constitute a complete overhaul of his very essence.

    Similarly, Washington Post opinion writer Kathleen Parker lambasted media’s “softening of criticism” of Trump and warned “the commentariat,” “Nothing makes Trump more acceptable today than yesterday or last week — or six months ago.”

    The "pivot" narrative has become a reset button, allowing media to excuse or forget all of Trump’s past rhetorical assaults. Media figures are essentially condoning all of his racism, sexism, and conspiracies, so long as he sounds and acts subdued and presidential.

    Image by Dayanita Ramesh and Sarah Wasko. 

  • Before Hiring Corey Lewandowski, CNN Cared About Attacks Against Its Staff

    CNN Banned Roger Stone After He Lashed Out At Network Personalities

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    CNN hired Corey Lewandowski despite the former Trump campaign manager reportedly “pushing a CNN reporter” and making “sexually suggestive and at times vulgar comments to -- and about -- female journalists.” CNN’s actions are at odds with how it handled Roger Stone: the network banned the Trump ally as a guest in February after he wrote a series of incendiary tweets attacking network personalities.

    Stone is a longtime friend and former employee of Trump. He had become a favorite guest on the network to provide a pro-Trump point of view (unlike Lewandowski, Stone was not on CNN’s payroll). Media Matters noted at the time that Stone had attacked CNN political commentator Ana Navarro and former CNN analyst Roland Martin on Twitter with racist and sexist slurs. The network subsequently stated that Stone would no longer appear on its airwaves.

    Media Matters at the time praised CNN for correctly handling Stone by removing him from its airwaves. But CNN has reversed course in how it handles on-air Trump supporters with histories of wretched behavior toward journalists by hiring Lewandowski as a paid contributor.

    BuzzFeed reported in March that Lewandowski made “unwanted romantic advances” and “sexual comments about female journalists.” The outlet also reported that he was “accused of pushing a CNN reporter who tried to ask the candidate a question.” In November, CNN reporter Noah Gray tweeted video of Lewandowski threatening to pull his press credentials if he didn't return to the media "pen" during a campaign event.

    Reporters told Politico in March “that Lewandowski has made sexually suggestive and at times vulgar comments to -- and about -- female journalists who have covered Trump’s presidential bid. One reporter who was on the receiving end of such comments described them as ‘completely inappropriate in a professional setting.’”

    Due to this behavior, Lewandowski’s hiring has drawn harsh criticism from journalists across the political spectrum, including at CNN. Politico reported yesterday that “Some CNN staffers were privately grumbling on Thursday about Lewandowski's hiring, especially in light of how he has treated journalists. Lewandowski personally placed a POLITICO reporter on the campaign's ‘blacklist’ and earlier this year, he was charged with misdemeanor battery for forcibly grabbing reporter Michelle Fields as she tried to ask Trump a question following an event in March (prosecutors ultimately declined to pursue the case).”

    The Daily Beast similarly reported that one “insider, speaking on condition of anonymity, described CNN staffers as ‘furious with [CNN head] Jeff [Zucker]’ for hiring Lewandowski.” Another insider “described some CNN staffers” as “simply resigned to the new hire.”

    Michelle Fields said: “My heart goes out to all his new female coworkers who will have to deal with him daily. I imagine CNN HR will be busy this year.”

    Stone and Lewandowski are nemeses despite their support for Trump. Stone said today on The Alex Jones Show that Trump was correct to fire Lewandowski and that CNN is “the most anti-Trump” network.

  • National Association Of Hispanic Journalists Reminds Media To Avoid Anti-Immigrant Slurs In Coverage Of SCOTUS Decision

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LOPEZ

    The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) released a statement calling on media to “stop using the dehumanizing term ‘illegals’” in their coverage of the Supreme Court’s decision blocking one of the president’s executive actions on immigration.

    On June 23, the Supreme Court split evenly on Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), a deadlock that affirmed the lower court’s decision to block implementation of the program. In a statement sent through its electronic mailing list, NAHJ urged media reporting on “the SCOTUS indecision” to use “accurate terminology” in their coverage, reminding journalists of their decade-long campaign to stop the use of “pejorative” terms like “illegals” or “illegal aliens.” According to the NAHJ, by using the pejorative terms, media appropriates “rhetoric used by people on a particular side of the issue.”

    The anti-immigrant term has been continuously pushed by conservatives, ranging from Republican lawmakers to Fox News figures to radio hosts. Other national media figures have been guilty of also adopting the slur, although an increasing number of outlets have revised their policies to advise the term “illegal” be used only when referring to an action, not a person. Latino journalists like Univision and Fusion’s Jorge Ramos, former Telemundo president Nely Galán, and undocumented journalist José Antonio Vargas have urged media not to use the term, pointing out, as Vargas did during an appearance on Fox News, the term “is not only inaccurate but really dehumanizing.”

    From the June 23 NAHJ statement:

  • CNN Hosts Countless Pro-Trump Guests -- Why Does It Need Corey Lewandowski?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    CNN hired former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski despite his non-disclosure agreement with Trump and history of anti-press behavior. CNN hardly needs to pay for another pro-Trump voice given it already hosts a wide number of Trump supporters.

    Washington Post media columnist Erik Wemple wondered “How many Trumpites does CNN need” when the network already has paid pro-Trump analysts Jeffrey Lord and Kayleigh McEnany. He added: "Must CNN have three paid commentators who do nothing but defend their candidate?" 

    A Media Matters look at CNN’s coverage shows that CNN has had no problem finding various Trump supporters during the presidential campaign. Here are over 30 examples:

  • What We Do And Don't Know About CNN's Corey Lewandowski Ethics Nightmare

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Corey Lewandowski

    Yesterday, CNN announced that it had hired Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager of Donald Trump’s campaign who was fired on Monday. Based on what we already know, the hire presents an ethical nightmare for CNN. But there are still many unanswered questions about the hire that could make things worse.

    Lewandowski was known during his tenure with the campaign as Trump’s anti-press enforcer, drawing criticism for physical altercations with at least two reporters (one of whom worked for CNN) as well as reportedly making “unwanted romantic advances” and “sexually suggestive and at times vulgar comments to -- and about -- female journalists.”

    Here’s what we know -- and don’t know -- about the Lewandowski hire:

    We know:

    Lewandowski has a non-disclosure agreement. During Lewandowski’s first appearance on CNN as a contributor, host Erin Burnett asked him if he had signed a nondisclosure agreement when he worked for the Trump campaign. He replied that he had.

    He won’t say if he has a non-disparagement agreement. Burnett also noted that CNN had previously obtained a copy of the agreement that Trump campaign staff signed and that it included language stating that “during the term of your service and at all times thereafter, you hereby promise and agree not to demean or disparage publicly the company, Mr. Trump, any Trump company, any family member or any family member company.” Lewandowski refused to directly answer Burnett’s question as to whether his agreement included such a clause.

    At least one outlet decided not to make an offer to Lewandowski over ethical concerns. CNN’s Brian Stelter reported that according to a source at MSNBC, the network’s executives had also met with Lewandowski to discuss hiring him as a contributor but ultimately decided against making an offer, “mainly due to ethical concerns.”

    Journalists across the political spectrum hate this hire. After Politico broke the news, reporters and pundits from the left, right, and center condemned CNN for hiring Lewandowski. They highlighted his past history with journalists, particularly female ones, and questioned the ethics of the hire.

    Including at CNN. Stelter reported that Lewandowski’s hiring was “highly controversial, even within the newsroom, in part because he has a reputation for being hostile toward journalists.” Politico’s Hadas Gold similarly reported, “Some CNN staffers were privately grumbling on Thursday about Lewandowski's hiring, especially in light of how he has treated journalists.” The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove reported that CNN staffers are “furious with” CNN president Jeff Zucker.

    Media critics agree. In the words of former CNN bureau chief Frank Sesno, who now directs George Washington University’s media and public affairs department, “Lewandowski’s credibility becomes CNN’s credibility. If he peddles talking points and lies, then CNN will be peddling talking points and lies—to their own peril.”

    We don’t know:

    Whether Lewandowski actually has a non-disparagement agreement. Can Lewandowski criticize Trump, his family members, or his company without violating the terms of his contract with the presumptive GOP nominee? Based on Lewandowski’s responses to questions about the campaign, it sure seems like the answer is no. But we don’t know for sure.

    Whether CNN knows if Lewandowski has a non-disparagement agreement. It seems unbelievable that CNN’s executives would have hired Lewandowski without knowing the terms of his contract with the Trump campaign. But if they do know about it, they haven’t passed that information on to their reporters, who have been forced to ask Lewandowski about it and watch him evade the question.

    Whether CNN’s executives considered Lewandowski’s behavior toward journalists, particularly women, in the hiring process. Does the network care that the person they have hired to do commentary reportedly physically pushed one of their own producers when he tried to ask Trump a question? Did they take into account his reported behavior with female journalists when they were considering hiring him? As Michelle Fields, who was manhandled by Lewandowski, put it, “My heart goes out to all his new female coworkers who will have to deal with him daily. I imagine CNN HR will be busy this year.”

    What role Trump played in Lewandowski’s hiring. A Deadline source claims that “Trump was involved in brokering the deal” between Lewandowski and CNN. The network previously hired Jeffrey Lord as a contributor on Trump’s recommendation, Lord said.

    Who is paying for the lawsuit against Trump and Lewandowski. GOP operative Cheri Jacobus is currently suing Trump and Lewandowski together in a $4 million defamation suit. If Trump is funding the defense in whole, that would represent a massive conflict of interest for Lewandowski.

    What Lewandowski offers CNN that its current Trump backers don’t. CNN already employs two commentators who were hired specifically because they support Trump: Jeffrey Lord and Kayleigh McEnany. If Lewandowski can’t tell CNN’s audience what he saw while running Trump’s campaign, and can’t provide candid criticism of the candidate without violating a contract, what does he offer the network other than another voice pushing canned talking points?