Earlier in October, WikiLeaks published an email apparently hacked from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta in which longtime Democratic operative and CNN analyst Donna Brazile appeared to alert the Clinton campaign to a question that was set to be asked at a March 13 CNN town hall. (Podesta has not confirmed the authenticity of the WikiLeaks emails.) Brazile, who became the interim chair of the Democratic National Committee in July, denied having fed any potential questions to the Clinton camp: “As it pertains to the CNN debates, I never had access to questions and never would have shared them with the candidates if I did.”
On March 5, Brazile … emailed the Clinton campaign with details on a question regarding lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan, the location of the CNN debate to be held the next day.
“One of the questions directed to HRC tomorrow is from a woman with a rash,” Brazile wrote in a March 5 email to Clinton’s senior campaign aides. “Her family has lead poison and she will ask what, if anything, will Hillary do as president to help the ppl of Flint.”
In another newly released email related to the March 13 event, Brazile apparently promised to “send a few more” of the debate questions she’d apparently gotten from CNN anchor Roland Martin to the Clinton camp.
CNN responded to the new finds by announcing that it had accepted Brazile’s resignation weeks ago, on Oct. 14. “We are completely uncomfortable with what we have learned about [Brazile’s] interactions with the Clinton campaign while she was a CNN contributor,” a spokeswoman said.
The narrow story here is that Donna Brazile, who replaced a DNC party chairwoman who’d lost the confidence of the party’s rank and file by going too deep in the tank for Hillary Clinton, has gotten caught going too deep in the tank for Hillary Clinton. (And then lying about it.) CNN distanced itself from her, which is is fine. But what was the network expecting from an old party hand? Putting political hacks on air and identifying them as independent analysts is a farce regardless of whether they end up leaking predictable debate questions to Hillary Clinton’s communications director. Donna Brazile has been working for the Clintons on and off for 25 years; as her sudden DNC appointment in July showed, she’s never more than a news cycle away from getting a paycheck that depends on being in the Clintons’ good graces.
Promoting the interests of politicians is just what political operatives do. But the practice of paying operatives who personally benefit from the success of certain candidates/narratives to make ostensibly earnest, objective declarations about American politics is an absurd one. (And one that flows from the oft-derided “gotta hear both sides” teeveeland paradigm in which there is is no objective reality, only two parties making competing claims between commercial breaks.) Paul Begala, Karl Rove, Ana Navarro, James Carville, Alex Castellanos, Frank Luntz, and their ilk dip in and out of roles as journalistic “contributors” to cable news networks to take paid work for candidates, parties, and causes. In many cases, the journalism and the business overlap. (In July, Slate overheard Fox News’ Rove at the Republican National Convention pitching another conventiongoer on a “tremendous opportunity” apparently involving a massive government contract.) The pundit panels that networks convene after debates and big speeches are, in essence, pitch meetings in which strategists sell themselves to prospective clients.
The most obvious ongoing exemplar of this idiocy, of course, is former Trump goon Corey Lewandowski, who was fired as campaign manager in June and then immediately hired by CNN. Trump kept paying Lewandowski until August, and Lewandowski was seen on Trump’s campaign plane (among Trump’s aides, not among other journalists) in October. If Trump wins and Lewandowski’s view of the race becomes conventional wisdom, Lewandowski benefits personally; CNN is basically paying Lewandowski for the privilege of televising a daily infomercial called “Help Corey Lewandowski Get a Plum Job in the White House While Lining Up Consulting Gigs for 2018.”
CNN wholly deserves the flak it deserves for employing this modern Goebbels. But if CNN didn’t pay him, another network would. The only thing that can stop the cycle is general public shame, a revolt of the cable-viewing proletariat in which we join together to call on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox to fire all the Lewandowskis and Braziles, so that we may build, anew, a society in which more deserving and insightful experts become TV politics personalities. I’d suggest that more networks start booking Slate bloggers, for example—but then again, I’m biased.