If it weren’t for CNN’s biased Chief Media Correspondent Brian Stelter, you might feel sympathy for a media journalist trying to get the scoop on why his network hired an ex-Administration GOP aide for a managerial role. At worst, it crosses lines that are making some CNNers lose their minds. At best, it helps move CNN’s coverage more to the right.
On Tuesday, news broke that Sara Isgur Flores — AKA @whignewtons — is coming to work for CNN as a political editor in the network’s Washington bureau. If her role is true to its title, she will inevitably be overseeing coverage of the 2020 elections, not to mention White House coverage. She most recently worked as Justice Department spokeswoman for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom Trump detested and fired. Her move to CNN is something of a unicorn. (RELATED: People Are Upset That CNN Hired A Former Jeff Sessions Spokeswoman)
Which brings us to why Stelter and CNN are getting punched — the network’s execs won’t answer questions on the record. But internally, word is seeping out that this whole thing is being overhyped due to poor communication around her hire. A CNN staffer told me that the frustration is not unique to this administration. They’d be similarly concerned if someone like Jen Psaki had been hired for the same role. Psaki is a CNN contributor who was previously White House Communications Director for former President Obama.
“‘I have also spoken with CNN executives who defended Isgur’s appointment’ Why are no @CNN executives willing to defend their own hiring on the record? asked Vivian Schiller, CEO of the Civil Media Foundation, on Twitter. “This is a news org hiring a news executive, and they need anonymity?”
In the late 90s, Schiller headed up CNN’s documentary unit. She left for the New York Times in 2002. In 2006, she became President and CEO of NPR, a job she ultimately left in 2011 after an NPR fundraising exec was caught on tape trashing the tea party movement as a bunch of racists in the GOP.
In his story, Stelter wrote, “CNN employees are concerned, according to numerous people who reached out to me on Tuesday. They are asking what Isgur’s role will be and questioning whether her sudden leap from the Trump administration to the CNN newsroom is an ethical breach.”
Strangely, CNN did not break its own news Tuesday — Politico did. Usually, networks are antsy to break news of their own impressive hires. “CNN PR confirmed that she would report to political director David Chalian but otherwise declined to comment,” Stelter wrote.
Stelter reported that he spoke with CNN execs who defended the hire to him, despite her lack of journalism experience. He wrote that “they” described her as an “exceptional person whose political experience will improve CNN’s coverage.”
Despite CNN’s protests to the contrary, the network’s new hire is not quite the equivalent of George Stephanopoulos (Bill Clinton to ABC) David Axelrod (Barack Obama to CNN) or Nicolle Wallace (George W. Bush to MSNBC). None of those examples moved into managerial roles. Many White House aides leave and head straight to network jobs. Sometimes a news exec turns around and goes to work for the White House — like ex-Fox Newser Bill Shine. Or the opposite: Kimberly Guilfoyle left Fox News to be Donald Trump Jr.‘s girlfriend and travel the country for Trump’s White House and GOP causes.
Earlier this year, CNN hired former Utah GOP Rep. Mia Love. Naturally, she’s a Trump hater.
The hire that fits most with what CNN is doing is the late Tim Russert, who was chief of staff to New York Democratic Sen. Daniel Moynihan. Within a year after his departure, NBC News hired Russert to work in its Washington Bureau, where he rose to Washington Bureau Chief. Two years after that, he became host of “Meet the Press.”
Still, the attacks on CNN came in droves.
NPR’s Editor of “Morning Edition” Steve Mullis tweeted, “CNN executives are so strongly confident in the hire they … won’t let themselves be ID’ed in a direct quote.”
Simon Malloy, a senior writer for Democrat Party propaganda arm Media Matters For America, pointedly tweeted, “CNN’s new political editor has worked for every Republican but hasn’t done any journalism.” Would he be happier if she worked for Democrats?
MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell asked, “How many thousands of qualified journalists would have to turn down this job before CNN would make this mistake?”
The liberal Daily Kos condemned CNN’s new hire, saying the network needs to cut ties with her — now. ShareBlue‘s Eric Boelert wrote for Daily Kos, “Every news organization makes mistakes.” Except he got his facts wrong. He wrote that CNN has hired Isgur Flores to be its new political director. Memo to Boelert: She’s a political editor in the network’s Washington bureau. David Chalian is CNN’s Political Director. You may want to change your lead.
Margaret Sullivan, a media writer for The Washington Post, wrote a column Wednesday saying that the hire is “even worse than it looks.” She wrote that the move suggests that CNN President Jeff Zucker is “aiming for a kind of false fairness: a defensive, both-sides-are-equal kind of political coverage that inevitably fails to serve the voting public.”
A searing comment comes when a Columbia journalism prof mocks Sara Isgur Flores’s glaring lack of industry experience, asking “if Jeff Zucker would ever have brain surgery performed by a dentist.”